I haven’t been keeping up with reviewing the books I’ve been reading, so this one is a quick summation of the last three books I’ve read: a dystopia, a utopia, and the multiverse.
Toward the end of spring/beginning of summer, I read The City of Mirrors, the third installment of Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic trilogy (the first two being The Passage and The Twelve, both read before I began the blog). To summarize a complex, multipoint-of-view plot that switches back and forth through time, it tells the story of a government experiment gone wrong, wherein a virus turns its victims into vampire-like creatures that nearly destroy humanity. It’s the survivors and their fight against “The Twelve” original recipients of the virus that make up the first two books; City of Mirrors deals with the final stand against “The Zero”, the very first and master of them all, and humanity’s last gasp for survival. I can’t begin to describe the richness, in character, plot, setting, and theme that Cronin offers here. If you like dystopian fiction with genre-like excitement, but with a dash of literary flavor, I can’t urge you enough to read this trilogy.
I’ve always loved the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but had never read her feminist utopian novel Herland. When my niece Amber (an English major) suggested we read it for the book club, I was instantly on board.
Written in 1915 by writer and feminist social critic Gilman, it tells the story of three men who find an isolated, unknown land with only girls and women. Sounds like a dream come true for these guys, right? Wrong! They find out just how wrong they are in just about all of their assumptions about women in the year that they stay with them. The three men-Terry, the typical masculine “conqueror” archetype; Jeff, the “worshiper” and idealist; and Van, the most reasonable of the three, yet still entrenched in his own prejudices-find that these women are doing just fine without men in every way imaginable.
I found their world impressive and wonderfully peaceful, and loved how these women shot down the men’s arrogant assumptions with ease; yet, it’s still a world I wouldn’t want to live in. Admittedly, there’s something dull about a world with just one gender. I tend to agree with the usually repulsive Terry’s conclusion that they’re “neuters”, in that they have no sexual impulse whatsoever. It might have been more interesting or believable if they’d become lesbians, but I suppose that was a no-no in 1915 to even suggest; or perhaps Gilman wanted to take sex out of the equation entirely, either because of personal disinterest or because it tends to complicate and muddy things so splendidly.
Still, Gilman makes her points in a witty, satisfying way, and was clearly ahead of her time in the matter of feminism and women’s rights. As I read the book, I kept thinking how, despite the great strides women have made in the intervening 100 years, basic attitudes about women still prevail (Trump, anyone?). For such a small book, there’s plenty to chew on here.
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch, has got to be the most mind-bending book I’ve read in quite a while. Possibly ever.
It begins with Jason Dessen, a college physics professor, wondering what his life might have been like if he hadn’t married his artist wife Daniela and brought up their 15 year old son Charlie. He loves his family, but is haunted by questions and mild regret about not following through on his quantum research in his twenties.
He briefly visits his single friend, Ryan, who’s won the prestigious Pavia prize for his work in physics, and who makes his disappointment in Jason obvious. On the way home, Jason is attacked and kidnapped by a masked man who brings him to an abandoned warehouse, injects him with some unknown substance, and thrusts him into some kind of box-like machine.
When Jason wakes up, he’s in a different world. One in which he has no wife and son, he has won the Pavia prize, and a group of excited colleagues are waiting for him to tell them where he’s been for the last year or so.
I won’t give away any spoilers here, but what actually did happen to Jason, and his desperate attempts to get back what he’s lost, is the the craziest mind f***k I’ve ever read. Not only is this a fast-paced thriller, but it will also challenge your assumptions about identity, the nature of the universe, and every decision you’ve ever made in your life, big or small.
Not a bad chunk of reading for the past few months; can’t wait to read and review the next three!