Category Archives: 2 stars

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

  Summary (Amazon):  Anderson Lake is AgriGen’s Calorie Man, sent to work undercover as a factory manager in Thailand while combing Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories.

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. Emiko is not human; she is an engineered being, grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in this chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits and forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly-acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

In this brand new edition celebrating the book’s reception into the canon of celebrated modern science fiction, accompanying the text are two novelettes exploring the dystopian world of The Windup Girl, the Theodore Sturgeon Award-winning “The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man.” Also included is an exclusive Q&A with the author describing his writing process, the political climate into which his debut novel was published, and the future of science fiction.

My Review (spoilers!):

Executive Summary: terrible

I had a really hard time getting into this book. I found it to be boring, mostly unoriginal and terribly sexist. How it won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards is beyond me. I also found the plot to be overly convoluted while at the same time almost completely pointless. That’s a pretty impressive feat.

It’s a post-apocalyptic book set in Thailand. It has a lot of the stereotypical post-apocalyptic book premises–no oil, no cars, genetically engineered humans. But its main focus is on food. Huge food companies (i.e. Montesanto) have taken over and are controlling the food by genetically engineered blights and other things. OK that’s slightly different, but it’s still just a twist on starvation which other sci-fi books explore for one calamity or another.

The main character of the book, Anderson Lake, is a “calorie man” (not a windup girl as you would expect by the title). He owns some sort of factory which is on the surface producing a kink-spring to help increase energy potential. In actuality, Anderson is there to figure out where the Thai seedbank is because it is supposed to be the main one with a lot of genetic material. Presumably he will take this back to Iowa with him (which obviously is where the huge food companies are based). Which completely makes NO SENSE in a post-apocalyptic future where there are no cars.

Anderson meets “the windup girl” Emiko in a sex club. She’s some sort of Japanese new person (genetically engineered by misogynistic assholes to be the perfect little woman). And when her former boss abandoned her, he didn’t mulch her like apparently he was supposed to. So now she gets raped at a sex club on a daily basis (and is described in vivid detail in the book). Yes, this is the character the book was named for.

Emiko feeds Anderson information about the seed bank and he eventually lets her hideout at his place after she killed everyone who gang-raped her, including the regent to the child queen. Seems OK but she’s been his personal sex toy in the story for a while by this point.

At some point in the story, it is revealed that the manager of Anderson’s factory (Hock Seng) is trying to steal the kink spring design and sell it to basically obtain the equivalent of citizenship. Hock Seng is a refugee who in his former life was an executive. A bunch of stuff happens which I don’t really remember and some people from the factory start to die from some sort of genetic algae plague. Hock Seng and some girl who works there cover up the deaths and they leave.

At the same time as the main story is happening, there’s a separate, just as uninteresting, side story happening about the political unrest in Thailand which culminates after the death of the queen’s regent. I won’t even discuss it because frankly, it came off as completely hollow and I don’t really remember it.

In the end, Anderson ends up dying from the plague that originated from his factory (Bye, Felicia), and Emiko teams up with a different renegade scientist from one of the big food companies and his lady boy. The scientist tells Emiko that he will use her DNA to create a new race of better new people who will actually be able to breed.

The end.

Verdict: 2 stars

I rarely come away from books feeling as though they were a complete waste of time. This one was it. I would not recommend it at all.

 

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Fifty Shades Freed – E. L. James

image(3)Book Description (Amazon): When unworldly student Anastasia Steele first encountered the driven and dazzling young entrepreneur Christian Grey it sparked a sensual affair that changed both of their lives irrevocably. Shocked, intrigued, and, ultimately, repelled by Christian’s singular erotic tastes, Ana demands a deeper commitment. Determined to keep her, Christian agrees.

Now, Ana and Christian have it all—love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of possibilities for their future. But Ana knows that loving her Fifty Shades will not be easy, and that being together will pose challenges that neither of them would anticipate. Ana must somehow learn to share Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own identity. And Christian must overcome his compulsion to control as he wrestles with the demons of a tormented past.

Just when it seems that their strength together will eclipse any obstacle, misfortune, malice, and fate conspire to make Ana’s deepest fears turn to reality.

This book is intended for mature audiences.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: eye roll

This book is more like the end of the 2nd book (which I disliked), and it was a struggle for me to get through it. James begins the book with a flashback scene to Christian being taken by the police officers after his mother died. Not exactly the best way to begin an erotic novel in my mind. And then chapter 1, they’re on their honeymoon. Wait, what? We missed the wedding? Not exactly. The book cuts back and forth between the wedding which has already happened at Christian’s parents’ house and the ongoing honeymoon on his boat off the coast of Monaco. It’s not terribly exciting in any way. Ana is still trying to upset Christian, and he’s still trying to control her. And then they argue. Sounds romantic. Basically the only point of interest is that while they are away on honeymoon,  a fire is set in the server room of Christian’s headquarters.

After a welcome home luncheon at Christian’s family, Christian allows Ana to drive home in the R8. As they are driving, they realize they are being followed. Luckily Ana manages to do some impressive stunt driving to get them into a hiding spot–an empty parking garage where they proceed to have some adrenaline-fueled sex.

During the “debrief” after the incident, they go over some photos from the server-room fire and realize that it was set by Jack Hyde (Ana’s former boss from book 2).

They go check out the design of their new house, and Ana hates their designer Gia because Gia is pretty and spends a lot of time flirting with Christian. (Get over it.) Eventually Ana confronts her about it and explains that Christian is not in charge of the design, so Gia better start respecting her.

And then Ana cuts Christian’s hair. What an asinine thing. She used to cut her stepdad’s hair so it’s OK. Um, your stepdad’s appearance never mattered. He wasn’t the CEO of the universe who was worried about paparazzi and  how he looked on magazine covers.

They get in a lot of petty arguments. Like why she hasn’t changed her name at work (because she didn’t want to and they didn’t talk about it before they got married but he bullies her into it anyway.) Like how she goes out and has drinks with Kate (and security) when Jack Hyde might be out there looking for her. Right.

Turns out that while she was out having drinks with Kate, Jack managed to break into their condo under the guise of a delivery man. It turns out that he had intended to kidnap her as he had a mattress and horse tranquilizers in his van. He also had a lot of information about Christian and his family on the computer that they confiscated from him when they fired him. He was also responsible for the accident involving Charlie Tango in the previous book.  Christian thinks that the connection is Detroit as that is where both he and Jack were both born. (Of course the child of a crack whore is born in Detroit. They could never be born somewhere as nice as Seattle…) Jack had a similar upbringing to Christian. He had drunk parents who both died from it in various ways. He was in and out of foster care, but turned things around and went to Princeton.

And then just like that, Christian decides that they should go to Aspen since Ana won a trip there in that charity auction. When they arrive at the airport, all the friend-relatives are there (Kate, Elliott, Mia, and Ethan). Kate and Elliott are having issues, and Ana sees Elliott with Gia, the designer she told off, out in town but keeps it to herself. Later that night, Elliott proposes to Kate and she says yes. (The whole Gia thing was just coincidence.)

They return to Seattle, and Ana returns to work. For no point in the actual story, Leila and another ex-sub, Suzi show up at Ana’s work to see how she’s doing. And then Christian shows up and fires the security guard, gets mad at everyone involved and generally acts like an ass. But he’s so dreamy and everyone loves him!!!

Then Ray gets in a car accident, and Ana rushes off to Portland. When she arrives, he’s in operation, but he eventually awakes in stable but critical condition. She celebrates her 22nd birthday while Ray is in the hospital. Christian buys her her own Audi R8 and celebrates her with all her friend-relatives (and actual relatives too). Eventually Ray recovers and we finally return to the “main” story.

The detective investigating the Jack Hyde case questions Ana because Jack Hyde said that Ana sexually harassed him.

As they are leaving the hospital, Dr. Greene, the gynecologist sees Ana and wants to know why she has cancelled her last 4 appointments, and just happens to be able to see her that very moment. So Ana takes a pregnancy test and it is POSITIVE. Are. You. Kidding. Me?

She tells Christian and he flips out, understandably, because he’s a control freak, and they’ve been married for 5 minutes. For once, I side with him. But he decides to run out on his pregnant wife and go get wasted with Elena. That I do not side with. What an idiotic moron. Because she’s a mature grown up, Ana sends Christian an email about the text from Elena and then hides in the play room to give the illusion that she’s left. Yes, these people should be having children.

Ana and Christian stay icy for a few days. Ana returns to work, and takes a call from Mia. However, it’s Jack, and he has kidnapped Mia. He wants Christian’s money or he will kill Mia. And Ana is not allowed to tell anyone. Luckily Christian is in Portland. Ana goes home, gets all the money she has, goes to the bank and withdraws all the money she can. Christian calls the bank and believes that Ana is leaving him. She lets him go along with the story to protect Mia. Jack calls her and has a getaway car for her. Elizabeth from her office is driving it. Luckily Ana is remotely clever and borrows a phone from the guy from the bank, which Elizabeth throws away. Her own phone is kept, leading Christian to find them. For once, his controlling behavior is of use.

Elizabeth was blackmailed by Jack (along with the other assistants from the office so they wouldn’t turn on him). Jack was in the same foster home as Christian while the paperwork for Christian’s adoption was going through, and Jack was always jealous that Christian was “chosen” and he wasn’t.

Ana recovers. She and Christian make up and have a couple babies. Happily ever after.

And then at the end of the book, James decides to throw in two extra chapters that were no use–one of Christian’s early days at the Greys and another of Christian’s take on the first meeting with Ana.

Verdict: 2 stars

Sometimes, it’s OK to just write one book. There is no law saying that you have to write 3 books when you have an inkling of a story idea. Married after a few months, still fighting about everything, and a lame sub-plot. Blah. And maybe it’s just me, but if you’re writing books that lots of college age women will be reading, perhaps you should consider that girls should not get married to an insane control freak after knowing them for 3 months and then forget to take their birth control and have children. In this book, it’s happily ever after, but let’s be real. Chances are more likely that you marry that control freak and he abuses you and your child, and you have isolated yourself from all of your friends because you’re never allowed to go out with them, so you have no one to help you when you need to escape. And yes, I realize that this book is erotica. But it wasn’t. Yes they had sex, but I didn’t care. The sex hasn’t been interesting since book one. In the end I’m glad I read these, but I am happy to move onto something better!

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

Book Description (Amazon):ELIC

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

My Review:

Executive Summary: Blech.

I did not like this book, and I was disappointed by that. It gets great reviews. It’s supposed to be so “uplifting”. I couldn’t stand it.

On a side note, I borrowed this book as an e-book from the Houston Public Library. It was my first time trying that out and I intend to do a post about it at a later date. There were +’s and -‘s.

The general story of the book is that 9 year old Oskar Schnell’s father dies in the World Trade Center disaster. He and his mother are going to therapy trying to figure out how to continue with their lives. Oskar also has a kind but somewhat odd and overbearing grandmother who lives across the street with “the renter”. He also comes from an apparently rich family as he has a doorman.

One day Oskar is rummaging around in his parents’ closet and he finds this vase which he breaks and finds a key inside it. The key is in an envelope which says “Black” on it (in red letters). After talking to some “experts”, he determines that it must belong to someone with the last name of Black. He tracks down every Black in the phone book and goes to visit them on his attempt to figure out this mystery.

He eventually figures out that the key belongs to one of the first Blacks that he met but by that point, he has some emotional resolve (I guess?) and doesn’t care what the key opens.

A side story is going on simultaneously about Oskar’s grandmother (who doesn’t have a name) and grandfather (who has never been in the picture). Oskar’s grandfather, Thomas,  initially was in love with Oskar’s grandmother’s sister Anna, in Germany. Anna died in the attack on their town, Dresden, during WW2. Someone Oskar’s grandma reconnected with Thomas in America many years later and he cannot talk any more. They get married and she gets pregnant despite his wishes and he leaves. He returns to find his son and ends up reconnecting with Grandma and becoming the renter.

There were so many annoying things about this book. There were photographs, chapters written in fake marked up drafts, unexplained “inside stories” like heavy boots and nothing spaces, a lack of knowing who was narrating from chapter to chapter. It was frustrating to read. It reminded me of reading Under the Volcano (whose weird writing style at least served a purpose).

They never specifically mentioned that Oskar was autistic, but I think that is what the author was alluding to (there is an emotions book at some point). Oskar is supposed to be 9. Which is HILARIOUS. A) what mother lets a 9 year old wander about New York City talking to strangers about some mysterious key. B) Granted I don’t know a lot of 9 year olds, but it was unrealistic that any act that way. He fluctuated between a weird 5 year old (asking strangers if they could kiss) and a 40 year old (his overwhelming collection of facts which I cannot imagine any child at that age could have collected.)

The story with the grandfather seemed contrived in a way to equate somehow WW2 horrors with modern day terrorism horrors. The grandfather in no way seemed like a believable person for a multitude of reasons (including the fact that he didn’t talk, had been missing for 30+ years with no explanation, etc.) and it just turned a possibly valid connection of tragedy into something unrealistic and almost absurd.

The only part of the book that I kind of enjoyed was the visit to all of the Blacks. I think there is just something about that as an idea which strikes me as so interesting and curious. I just genuinely enjoy listening to people’s stories because no two people have the same one. And I just find it fascinating. If I could get away with what Oskar did, I totally would. I would just be considered a creep.  And, it was pretty great that all of the Blacks came to see Oskar in his play.

Verdict:

2 Stars. Honestly I think this is one of those books that people either love or hate. I’m definitely in the latter. I just think that it just is a book that tries too hard to be weird and edgy and have this great revelation connecting a family through multiple tragedies. I found the characters to be too unrealistic, and honestly if I hadn’t been on an airplane with no other books, I probably would have “shelfed” it before the end.

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