Spin

Monday, October 19, 2020

Spin

Robert Charles Wilson, 2005

Hugo Winner - 2006

Premise: Tyler, Jason, and Diane are watching when the stars go out. They grow up in a frightening time when the Earth is subject to mysterious outside forces.

I read this book years ago, and l remember liking it then. I can't remember whether it took me a while to get into it the first time, but this time I was bored and impatient with the first half. (All 2020 book reviews should come with a big notice that the reader's reactions may or may not be typical.)

The story bounces back and forth between Tyler undergoing a mysterious illness and his recounting of his childhood and life up to that point. I was somewhat bored with the beginning: his crush on Diane and the early story while the world was being established. This was partially because I remembered just enough about the final reveals, and without the mystery, the book held little tension. Additionally, I was turned off by Diane herself and thus the narrator's obsession with her was worthy only of eye-rolling.

However, once the plot picked up in the second half, I did enjoy it again.

The sci-fi elements are interesting and well-handled: time bubbles, terraforming, von Neumann probes, biological reprogramming. The human story is about living under a believable threat of doomsday and how that affects people. Tyler, Jason, and Diane are kids when a probable deadline for the planet's destruction is discovered. Tyler tries to help individual people (studying medicine), Jason tries to use science and politics to save the world, and Diane joins a fringe religious cult, although her initial impetus has to do with making the world better as well. Jason and Diane's parents represent more internally focused reactions: the quest for personal power and the quest for personal oblivion. Pretty dark stuff.

By the end, the world and many of the characters have been transformed, and the ending is fundamentally hopeful, I'd say. (Despite governmental and other forces seeking to keep people from discovering or taking advantage of certain technology or opportunities.)

I'm not thrilled with the only major female character spending the book fundamentally weak and foolish until she's rescued by the hero (and then functional and effective but offscreen). But Tyler himself is a wobbling insecure mess, and all the characters have enough nuance that it's not a fatal flaw for the story.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Crazy Rich Asians

Monday, October 12, 2020

Crazy Rich Asians
Kevin Kwan, 2013

Premise: Romance meets riches in Singapore as a wedding brings relationships under tension in a sprawling wealthy clan.

I saw the movie adaptation (sort of) last year, and I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. (I saw a version cut for TV while I was in the hospital for the birth of my daughter, so it was, shall we say, a nontraditional movie-watching experience.)

There are some differences between the movie and the book (notably the resolution of the main plot), but having seen the movie really helped me follow the book in this case. I didn’t get sidetracked trying to remember all the side characters because I knew the main players and the major plot beats. 

The result of all that? I really liked the book a lot. 

I liked Rachel and Nick, the main couple, and while I liked their romance, I really liked how the book called Nick out more for being oblivious to his own wealth and how it would affect their relationship. 

I liked Astrid a lot; I found her story compelling and sad. I liked how much time the book could spend elaborating on the larger family and the bizarre quirks of their insular world. 

Overall the book is about how much that kind of money screws up relationships, and you see that play out many times across many couples, as well as friends. Plus it’s fun and funny. I’m probably going to check out the sequel... before the movie comes out. 

4 Stars - A Very Good Book 


The Pursuit Of...

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Pursuit Of...
Courtney Milan, 2018

Premise: At the Battle of Yorktown, a black American soldier comes upon a British officer who doesn’t seem interested in fighting, or at least in winning. It’s the unlikely beginning of a grand romance. 

This... I just... I... How do you type a happy squeeing sound?

I absolutely adored this. I loved both characters, how their differences fit together. I sometimes have trouble believing the attraction between romance protagonists, but this is compelling from the first page. 

It is also hilarious. Laugh-out-loud funny, tense without being stressful, wonderfully sexy, and beautifully written. 

John’s situation as a former slave isn’t softened or glossed over, but neither is it exploited for cheap drama. Henry has his own issues and a very un-British obsession with the Declaration of Independence. This combination means that the book grapples, if gently, with the space between myth and reality when it comes to the founding fathers.

This novella was originally part of a three-novella release all inspired by Hamilton. The only criticism I have is that there are a few bits in the epilogue that tie directly into the other novellas that are a smidge awkward. 

I highly recommend this, both as a sheer delight of a romance and as a temporary respite from the current news, one which hinges on the idea that our American ideals are worth caring about.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book