Wednesday, February 20, 2019

[Book] Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Book Cover
This is a different form than my normal reviews.  I usually don't go back to old books to add to my reviews, but this is a touch-stone.  It's a book that a LOT of folks have read, and I hope it might help someone who also read this book tune in on where I'm coming from.  I read this book several years ago, and though I flipped through it to refresh my mind for this entry, I didn't just read it again in full.  The tag label on this blog says book-notes instead of book-reviews.

The main character, or at least the character that starts and ends the book is Yossarian.  Yossarian is a pilot during World War 2, and as best as I can tell, spends the bulk of the book trying to get out of doing more of it, while also dealing in the black market with military supplies.

I say above, 'as best as I can tell' because everything is out of order.  Wait, that's not quite fair.  The stuff that happens in the 1944 narrative is mostly in order.  Two major sections of the book are also in flashback, and those are definitely not in order.

Each part of the story is retold from the perspective of someone else, and some of the basic facts don't line up.  This, I am told - over and over again - by well meaning friends and acquaintances, is entirely the genius of the book.  It's a masterpiece because of the very ways it doesn't make sense.

Here's the thing, I can see how the absurdity of war plays out here.  I can even see how the best of that old show M.A.S.H. was probably influenced by this book, but I am a reader that needs a solid narrative.  I actually think this book is something I'd even enjoy if someone simply put it all into a single timeline order.

I'm here to stand on this imaginary hill and say that it is perfectly fine to hate this book for all of the reasons your friends think its great.  I certainly do.

Content warnings for violence and rape.  Those things, too, are what make this book so powerful, and make me want - even more - to avoid it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

[Book] Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

Book cover
I have a fairly particular view of science-fiction and how it is different from fantasy.  The fantastic element in science fiction is usually both a catalyst for the story itself as well as a way to explore the reactionary side of society.  Where in fantasy, the fantastic element is simply present.  Used as a tool, maybe even explored in depth, but isn't the main goal.

For example, I think of Star Wars as a fantasy story, not science fiction at all.  It does have a classically science-fiction aesthetic.  Yet, boiling it down, Jedi are wizards, space ships are little different from ocean vessels, and the story is pushed forward by that war part of the name.

This book sits on the knife-edge between the two for me.  There is nothing about the nature of ball lightning itself in this story that is necessary to push the main plot.  There is some exploration at the individual, moral level, which to my view, is this books one link to science fiction from pure fantasy.

The theme of this book is the destructive nature of obsession, and the destructive nature of those who are obsessed with something.  There are numerous characters, including Chen, who are obsessed with various things, and the destructive nature of their interactions are compelling, and a little sad.  So, in this way, this book almost feels like a dramatic fantasy story.

The Prelude of this book begins with the main character, Chen, on his 14th birthday, witnessing both of his parents dying from Ball Lightning.  This sets Chen on a life fascinated by this natural phenomenon, hoping to understand this force that killed his parents.  The book sweeps through his collage years and into a professional life where he meets other people who have also been obsessed with ball lightning, and also other people with intersecting obsessions.

Two things of note, this book occurs in the same universe as the Three Body problem (which is fully science fiction by my definition), though it takes place before most of the events of that first book.  Second, though part of both stories do share one character, the story has no relation to the subject of The Three Body Problem.

I liked the book, and recommend it as a good dramatic human story.  It certainly has a science-fiction aesthetic.  If you are really into modern science-fiction, this book isn't it.