It’s the end of the world, again. This book was a recommendation on Goodreads after I finished Station Eleven. I can see why. If Station Eleven is the light and breezy dystopian novel, than The Water Knife is the dark, heavy cousin. We, as readers, are following three main characters around in this not-so-distant future dystopian setting. The water is running out and those who control it at it’s start can decide who gets water and how much. There’s Angel, like calling a tall man “shorty”,the spy/soldier who kills to keep his boss happy and the water flowing. Lucy, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who has made her fight personal. Lastly, there’s Maria, a refugee who will do whatever it takes to get out and stay out. These three will have to work together if anyone is going to make it out alive.
Water has always been a scarce thing out in the West, and a drought can be life changing. California has been in the news constantly because they are running out of water. When they do get rain they have to worry about mudslides and other disasters. The Water Knife is a wonderful addition to the genre of Dystopian fiction because it doesn’t create a problem, or a disaster to set the stage. Paolo Bacigalupi has taken real headlines and world occurrences to a further point. He doesn’t stretch to the furthest point, i.e polar caps melting lead to Waterworld, but while reading this you can see how we could reach the current degree very easily. Bacigalupi has taken our world and simply looked forward into one of our possible timelines. It scares the readers and it leaves them asking the question: How do we stop this from happening?
There is absolutely no sugar coating in this story. It’s brutal and hard. Wonderfully written and gets inside your head, The Water Knife is a heavy book. You could finish it in one sitting but I would advise you to follow it up with something lighter. There is such graphic and vivid language that it is almost like being there. The worst of humanity is on display while any sort of goodness and light seems to be fleeting and far away. The women all seem to be used or threatened to be raped. The men are mostly all heartless and just out for themselves. There may be a lesson to be learned from that but I like to stick to my belief that the good guy will win and the bad guys get their dues. I am tired of women simply being used as fodder and I had hoped that the author would rise above that particular trope.
Bacigalupi has enormous skill and talent, The Water Knife pulled me in and would not let go until it was finished with me. He writes in a manner that shows in such detail that you could almost reach through the page and touch the scars and injuries of the characters. The combination of different languages and dialects came through and made it feel real, rather than a white washed version of disaster. The clear disdain for journalist who feed off of disasters and the quick turnover of the public’s reactions to our now common 24-hour news cycles, is obvious and surprising as he seems to do the same thing in this story with the graphic manner he describes the violence and then moves on to the next scene.
This book has left me highly conflicted. On the one hand, it is well written and will draw you in. The other hand being, that it is depressing and dark. If you can handle the heavy and the emotional drain of reading this book than you should go for it. I’m going to stick with borrowing this from the library but I don’t think this will ever be a book that I re-read for fun, or buy for myself.
Here’s a bit about the Author from his website: Paolo Bacigalupi’s writing has appeared in WIRED Magazine, High Country News, Salon.com, OnEarth Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. His short fiction been anthologized in various “Year’s Best” collections of short science fiction and fantasy, nominated for three Nebula Awards, four Hugo Awards, and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best science fiction short story of the year. His short story collection Pump Six and Other Stories was a 2008 Locus Award winner for Best Collection and also named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly
His debut novel The Windup Girl was named by TIME Magazine as one of the ten best novels of 2009, and also won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. Internationally, it has won the Seiun Award (Japan), The Ignotus Award (Spain), The Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis (Germany), and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France).
In 1676, an unlikely pair—a young Puritan widow and an English spy—journeys across a land where greed and treachery abound. Prudence Cotton has recently lost her husband and is desperate to find her daughter, captured by the Nipmuk tribe during King Philip’s war. She’s convinced her daughter is alive but cannot track her into the wilderness alone. Help arrives in the form of James Bailey, an agent of the crown sent to Boston to investigate the murder of Prudence’s husband and to covertly cause a disturbance that would give the king just cause to install royal governors. After his partner is murdered, James needs help too. He strikes a deal with Prudence, and together they traverse the forbidding New England landscape looking for clues. What they confront in the wilderness—and what they discover about each other—could forever change their allegiances and alter their destinies. --Amazon.com
I wanted to love this book, I really did. A widowed woman in Puritan times fighting to get her daughter back and getting a shiny knight on horse back for her troubles, what's not to love? The exhausting trip it took to get there. If you're going to read it, borrow it from the library or use Kindle Unlimited. Anything that won't make you grumpy about wasting time. Now I love me some historical fiction, most of the books I am going to review on are historical fiction or sci-fi/fantasy it's just what I like. This book gets a pass from me, in that I would add it to a pile of books for a friend but it wouldn't be a solo gift. It just doesn't stand up by itself.
The main male lead, James Bailey, is just wrong. He is supposed to be the other half of this story, the equal to Prudence Cotton. Yet he seems to simply be a seires of PADs (Plot Advancement Device.) Need to get past a guard? Use James. He has a magical (not literally) pass. Need to find your daughter? Use James. Need to get your stuff back from your brother-in-law? Now where did we leave James? He has his own specified mission and between right now after reading this book a couple of weeks ago and just writing this I couldn't tell you if he ever succeeds.(Edit: I checked. He sort of does, but in a backwards way that makes little sense) I could understand the shallow strokes on this character if this was a newbie's novel but the author has over twenty books under his belt. At that point, what's the excuse?
Leaving the characters to one side, trust me you can put them anywhere, the mystery/conspiracy side of all this was a bit too easy. I need a good mystery. Growing up on Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, I love a mystery with just enough twist for me to not realize the butler did it in the first few pages. The book is only 345 pages long and yet it manages to dawdle for the first two-thirds of the book and then rush to wrap everything up in the end. In this case the butler definitely did it and you can tell who the bad guy is right when he appears on the scene. I have to give props to the author though, he could have dressed him all in black and gave him a black mustache to twirl but that must have been too much.
I tried to love this book so much, I need good historical fiction. It doesn't have to be great, trust me I'll read the trashy Tudor novels, and the silly bodice rippers but give me something to sink into. This book toys with you. There were so many moments when I was on the verge of getting to a good part only to go a few more pages in without getting anything. It was the equivalent of eating a bread sandwich, Just a nice piece of bread between two other pieces of bread. Should I also mention that any hope of a non white bread character that anyone can relate to was killed off in the 1st half of the book? Yeah, thanks for that. Oh, he might be interesting. And now he's dead. Great.
This one gets a Meh Goodwill would take it, on a scale from holding up my trashcan to sitting next to my plastic skull named Bob. (Bob gets all the good books)
“If there is a nuclear war, I don’t want to live,” comedian David Mitchell said on Would I Lie To You? “I don’t want to come out of a shelter and try and rebuild society. I have no skills...How long, okay, society is destroyed by a nuclear war, how long in this, basically we’re back to the Bronze Age, how long is it going to be before people start pitching panel shows again? It’s going to be at least 2000 years.”
Luckily author Emily St John Mandel has thoroughly disregarded that idea in her book Station Eleven. The idea of a travelling band of nomads recovering after a cataclysm has shaken the foundations of life as we know it isn’t new. Yet she has created this world in which we follow a literal band, The Travelling Symphony, who have paired up with a group of a actors to put on Shakespeare and classical music shows all around North America. In a world where all of the convenience of our modern lives have faded out, we are shown a slice of their lives. Looking through the eyes of different characters and the use of overlapping timelines, we are able to see the before, during and after of the Georgia(country not state) Flu. Though she follows the idea that most people will take care of the basic needs, shelter, food and the like, she inserts the idea early on using a Star Trek Voyager quote: Survival is Insufficient. It isn’t enough to simply live from day to day. We see this in each character as they grow from making it day to day, to actually living. That of course is the whole point. To steal a line from Jurassic Park, "Life will find a way." That's is what we live for, the idea that no matter what life will go on.
Too often dystopian novels are grim and can be overwhelming. The darkness in humanity is always there and it can be focused on, to an extreme degree. The draw of dystopian stories for me is not the end of the world, or the prophecy of what can be, but the spark of life and goodness even though the world is going to pieces around the character’s ears. Station Eleven left me not only wanting more but also with a bit more faith in humanity. The idea that a sickness could spring up at any minute, is a worry that the modern world has always had to face due to overpopulation. Worse might be the leaders of certain faith groups that like to claim that any natural or sickness that kills many people is the work of God. There will always be cults of people in dystopia that believe that they survived not through chance or immunity but because they were better than those who died. We see this in Station Eleven and to the author’s credit she handles the inclusion of this in a brilliant fashion.
This isn’t the perfect dystopian novel, it’s a lovely post-apocalyptic choice but I felt it needed more. We are introduced to several characters that don’t reappear for an indecent amount of time. While I was drawn into the story, there were several times when I was left wondering how it was going to wrap back to certain characters. The ending did leave me wanting more closure, or at the very least the promise of a sequel. Station Eleven might not be for everyone, some might find the connecting story of Arthur Leander pointless and not really needed. While I could have done without it, it did provide a cord of connection between the characters that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. The 1st year after the Flu isn’t really hit upon in a strong way and one character flat out can’t remember what happened. I feel that it would have been easier to connect to the character is I had more understanding of her past. Instead I got a basic Strictly Need To Know block.
I would recommend this book to someone looking for a happy-ish ending and a dystopian novel. There isn’t much graphic violence until the climax, and the characters are obviously affected by their actions and their pasts. This is a nice change from the cold and impersonal killers I’ve had to get used to in this genre. There is a bit of an anti-God feel when it comes to the cults, but just because she didn’t write about a faith based town that wasn’t full on child-bride creepy, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist in her world. Though I checked this one out of my local library, Station Eleven is going on my Christmas list.
Just a bit about the Author: Emily St. John Mandel is the author of four novels, most recently Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Toronto Book Award, and the Morning News Tournament of Books, and has been translated into 27 languages. A previous novel, The Singer's Gun, was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and essays have been anthologized in numerous collections, including Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she's been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.
Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.
Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.~Amazon.com Summary
This book is wonderful, you should buy it as soon as it hits the shelves. The writing style lends it self to these wonderfully descriptive scenes and you can find yourself lost in her worlds. Even though part of the story is written in a dark space, you still can lose yourself and can feel the story. All too often writers will find themselves writing weak women, not always physically weak but characters that don't stand up to the story they are supposed to be leading. More often they become plot advancement devices to move the story along, or damsels in distress to be saved. The Dark Orbit women are more than just filler, they hold up and give a real human view through out the story. It's a refreshing breath of air from some of the not so great stories I've read. I connected with these women not only because they were women but because they were good characters. You could have changed the Daves to Debbies and vise versa and I still would have loved it. It only added to my delight that many of the characters were described as POCs, showing an understanding that in the future it wouldn't be a sea of white faces but a collection of different people.
Sometimes it is the Science part of Science Fiction that puts people off books that they otherwise would have enjoyed. Luckily with the popularity of The Big Bang Theory and other "nerd-lite" cultural reference points, science is getting closer to common knowledge level of understanding. I am a self described geek, and I enjoyed the way the science was explained. In some books it almost feels as though they are simply making up science to use as filler, worse has to be when the science is explained and the reader is left feeling as though they were being treated like a child.
Another great thing about Dark Orbit, would have to be the author's ability to create a real human connection through this book. With some books, having more than one POV can cause the reader to feel obligated to read one while simply waiting out for the others. In this case though both story lines were compelling and added richer details and knowledge to the plot. By giving a range of connection and diversity to her characters, Dark Orbit is a great book that I would feel confident about giving to a friend.
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship - and innocent love - that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept….Goodreads Summary
Sometimes it takes me a bit to catch up with what everyone else is reading. I didn’t read Fault in Our Stars until a few years ago, long after the internet had wept and wailed for the death of their favorite characters. Luckily I’m only 7 years behind this one, so I count that as fair. Once I started it, I was hooked. It took me a bit to get through it, I have the Ebook version and I was reading it at work.
I really liked this book and the different point of view than the usual war story of the time made for a great change. Usually we get a view of the Japanese being taken to internment or the scared White guy whose world has been turned upside down. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is what one would call a family story and even a love story. Though it falls into the genre of historical fiction, I feel that it would fit better with the coming-of-age genre. I never really thought about the fact that the Chinese of an area would be reacted against in the same way the Japanese were. Having never faced much prejudice as someone of Irish and English descent, it is still surprising to me to realize that two cultures that are so different (the Japanese and the Chinese) might have to not only verbally but visually make it obvious that they weren’t each other.
The writing style was very clear, even as it went back and forth between two different time periods. Drawn in from the beginning, I began to worry that I wouldn’t get the ending I wanted as the amount of pages grew smaller and smaller. I had already checked to see if there was a sequel and was surprised that a book this well written was a debut novel. After harassing the author on twitter and begging for my ending, I reached the end. Beautifully written and perfectly ended, the best way to describe this book.
It’s not a dark and heavy tale, though the subject matter is quite serious. Some have called it too sweet and artificial in its development of characters and relationships. The story is from Henry’s point of view. To many of us growing up our parents can seem very one dimensional and I think the way Henry talks about his father is very much in the manner of a real boy describing his home life. It’s a family story and a love story. Unlike the real world, where all too often we can act too late or not at all, this story rounded out and wrapped up a perfect story. We don’t all get our perfect endings in life, so it’s nice to be able to have that in books.
I would recommend this to someone who needs something happy and sweet to read. The historical fiction portion is there and is very sharp in its facts, but the more prevalent theme has to be the relationship between fathers and sons, not only between Henry and his father, but also Henry and his son. Buy it, borrow it, sit in the store and read it on the floor, just read it and enjoy.
Jamie Ford has this listed on his website about him: My name is James. Yes, I'm a dude. I’m also the New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet—which was, in no particular order, an IndieBound NEXT List Selection, a Borders Original Voices Selection, a Barnes & Noble Book Club Selection, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller. It was also named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association. In addition, Hotel has been translated into 34 languages. I’m still holding out for Klingon (that’s when you know you’ve made it). My new novel, Songs of Willow Frost was published September 10, 2013. And I'm also working on a YA (Young Adult) series that even my agent doesn't know about...yet. On the personal side, I'm the proud father of more teenagers than I can keep track of. Yep, it's chaos, but the good kind of chaos.
With 99.7% of the Earth's population dead and gone, the few who remain struggle to survive in an empty world. The scattered. The leftovers. These are their stories.
Meet Mitch, a father infected with the zombie virus. He knows he has 24 hours until he turns. Maybe a little more if he's lucky. He's been a half-ass father. Checked out. Distracted. Can he find a path to redemption in his final hours? Can he make sure his kids are taken care of before time runs out?
Meet Travis, a 23 year old wimp who ran away as his parents were murdered by raiders. Now he surrounds himself with towers of scavenged booze and prescription pills. He only wants to numb the pain. Then he comes upon the men who killed his family. Now he has a choice.
Meet Erin, a 16 year old girl taking care of an 8 year old orphan. Six months ago she was worried about prom. Now she worries about zombies and raiders and feeding a little girl.
Meet Teddy. Meet Baghead and Delfino. Meet Rex and Ray and Lorraine. Meet the utterly lost who look for meaning in humanity's fading glow.~Goodreads Blurb
Now typically when faced with a Zombie novel, I tend to move on to the next book pretty quickly. For me, zombies are best done in a visual media. Whether that is in graphic novel sense or film and tv, that’s where I cubbyhole my zombies. It appears that I have been doing myself a great disservice if zombie novels are like The Scattered and The Dead. Fair warning this is not one of those books that you can pick up and read in a night. At close to 650 pages, settle in for the long haul with a comfy chair and some Chinese takeout.
For a zombie book there are surprisingly few zombies running amuck, but I think the focus on the characters was a great choice by co authors Vargus and McBain. The various Points of View(POV) really kept the story fresh, a feat in itself in a 650 page book. We as an audience are given a plethora of different people to root for and like any story there are those characters that I couldn’t really force myself to care about(Damn it Mitch.)
Well-written and with a style that lends itself well to immersion in reading, I couldn't help but wonder if like Dickens they were being paid by the word. A different set of authors might have been able to parse down on the length of the novel which is one of the reasons it took me so long to post a review. The other reason is that I wasn’t really driven to finish the story. While there is guaranteed to be some internal conflict in the eventual end of the world. I felt that the view I was left with wasn’t the hope inspiring “Life finds a way” but a “oh, end it already” at least for a few of the characters. I look forward to reading the shorter, follow up novels but I don’t think this will be on my re-read list. I’m grateful for the opportunity to read outside my usual wheelhouse and I will definitely give the zombie genre another look. That being said, I might recommend splitting this book into 2 parts, simplifying parts and giving it a bit of a connecting arch.
I would recommend borrowing this book, whether it be from your local library or Kindle Unlimited. Not for people looking for a quick read or simple formula reading.
Freelance Editor & Reviewer