Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

In spite of having been recommended my "classic 20th Century Sci-Fi" reading list has never included any work by Philip K. Dick. I've enjoyed a number of movie adaptations based on his work, so I felt like it was high time to give him a try. Not knowing the best place to start, I chose the iconic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

While I was reading the book, my 14-year-old son noted the title and said "That sounds either very silly or very boring or both." I was about halfway through the book when he made the comment so I was able to let him know that even the "silly" concepts were presented in realistic and serious ways and that while it might not be a suspenseful edge-of-your-seat page turner there were some intriguing action sequences that involved death and destruction. My son left the conversation more educated but still not entirely convinced that this book would draw him in.

Now that I've finished reading, I'm also not sure it would draw him in. While the book has a sort of futuristic detective Noir element, it's not exactly the snarky and explosive detective novel of a Dashell Hammett and it's definitely not the sort of sensory explosion that is working so hard to pull in the short attention span of 21st century kids. At the same time, I think he, or any reader, can really get drawn in if they were to approach this book not looking at it as an suspense-adventure mystery thrill ride but as a thoughtful psychological exploration of humanity, technology and morality.

This book is approaching its 50 year anniversary and, as is often the case with futuristic sci-fi, it's starting to show its age in a few aspects. At the same time the story and the technology is presented in such a way that makes the world real and believable. Some of the futuristic high-tech ideas are great. They don't yet feel quite as prophetic as some that I've read from Bradbury, for example, but the concepts and technology still have shadows and nuances that exist in our modern world.

Even more than the technology, I found the psychological exploration of humanity and morality to be very intriguing. The book takes place on post-apocalyptic Earth. Most of humanity has emigrated to Mars or other space colonies. Those who continue to live on Earth generally either do so because they can't afford to leave, are just too stubborn to leave or are prohibited to leave because of physical or mental limitations that society doesn't wish to "infect" the new off-planet environments. The story follows a bounty hunter, Rick Deckard, who works for the L.A. police department to "retire" illegal Androids in the area. Androids are used in the various off-planet colonies as laborers and companions for the humans but some androids become a little too willfully self-aware and they break away from their assignments and flee to someplace new where they try to "pass" as human and create a new life for themselves.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Books Read in 2014

For the past few years (20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009) I've had a goal to read and review a bunch of books over the course of each year.

My goal has been to average a book per week and end up with 50 books read and reviewed at the end of the year. I usually don't include smaller books (early middle grade, picture books, etc) unless I feel really strongly about them.  In 2013, I was significantly below my goal.  Oh well.

This year (2014) I plan to improve on my downturn in 2013.  If I hit 50, great, but at the very least, I hope to reach 40 books read in 2014.  I will also try to share all of my reviews here so you can get a feel for what I liked or didn't like.  That said, I generally only pick up a book to read it if I feel like it "speaks to me" in some way, so chances are, most of my reviews will be fairly positive.  Even then, I'm sure I'll come across some stinkers.  :)

If you have any suggestions for books to read or ways I can make my reading goal more exciting, please let me know.

And now, without further ado, here's the list of books I've read so far in 2014:
(I will be updating this post each time a new book is read/reviewed)
  1. The Martian
  2. The Forbidden Stone (The Copernicus Legacy Book 1)
  3. At First Light
  4. The Orphanage of Miracles
  5. The High Druid's Blade
  6. The Conjuring Glass (The Phoenix Girls Book 1)
  7. The Bluest Eye
  8. Frostborn (Thrones and Bones book 1)
  9. Death in Venice and other tales
  10. Shell Game (Kingdom Keepers #5)
  11. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  12. Around the World in Eighty Days
  13. Finn
  14. The Rule of Thoughts (Mortality Doctrine #2)
And for additional reference, here's a link to my "to be read" list over at Goodreads. This list includes purchased books on my bookshelves (but not read) as well as tons of books that have been recommended to me over the years. As you can see, the list is huge...and never really shrinks since there are always new recommendations coming in. So tell me...what good books have you read lately that I should add to my list? Any that I "MUST" get to ~immediately? :-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy Halloween time

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review - Shell Game (Kingdom Keepers Book 5)

In Shell Game (Kingdom Keepers Book 5), the crew are celebrity guests on an inaugural sail of a new ship traveling from Florida to California via the Panama Canal. Their presence also means that a new DHI server is being unveiled that will have their hologram counterparts working the crowd on the cruise ship and on some of the shore excursions.

Prior to the trip, we learn that the Overtakers have been mounting an assault in Florida at the site of the main DHI headquarters. The Keepers have recruited various other kids, park employees and Disney characters to help in the battle but a vicious siege is going on and the keepers are hesitant to leave the battle in the hands of others. Still, they are the face of the DHI and it's their job to go on this cruise. Even more important, the Overtakers seem to be coincidentally planning something on the cruise. It seems obvious that they would be interested in the new DHI server outside of the core theme park areas but as the story gets going it's obvious that there may be something even more sinister going on.

The first portion of the book takes place in Florida and involves the Keepers making preparations to leave on the cruise securely prepared for whatever problems they may encounter. We learn that the the Overtakers have been recruiting their own forces. It seems that the Evil Queen (Snow White's queen) and Maleficent have been using their powers of "persuasion" (and magical spells) to entrance kids and adults to their cause. The Overtaker humans are usually recognized by their eerie green eyes though it is evident that there are others who are just following orders and may not even know that they are in the service of these wicked characters.

The story is generally pretty fun albeit a little convoluted and repetitive. It started off with some running through Epcot and other Florida parks as well as an exciting confrontation in the Typhoon Lagoon water park. The nostalgia that came from reading the descriptions of these parks was, as always, a lot of fun. Once the story moved to the cruise ship I was less familiar with the "real world" environment but cruise ships in general (even Disney ones) are fairly easy to imagine so I was able to envision the author's world fairly easily.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Book Review - Death in Venice and Other Tales

This book was assigned for a college course that I ended up dropping but I had already purchased the book. I decided to keep it because the book buyback/refund was ridiculous and because Mann's work is hailed as a quintessential part of German literature as well as insight on the concept of literature as art and of the relation between art and reality/humanity. Now years later, I finally picked the book up and worked through the dozen stories it contains.

From a high level I can say that I found the stories very evocative, descriptive and full of detailed emotion. A common tone that I felt throughout the reading was one not necessarily of despair but of longing...of a desire or yearning for something more. The exact focus varied somewhat from story to story but generally speaking we were usually presented with a protagonist who was an artist of some kind and who is struggling with balancing his passion and desire with the mundane and disappointing real world around him. That tone produced an overarching depressive feel that lingered throughout my entire reading. Even the happy and vibrant moments had a shadow of sadness behind them that I just couldn't escape.

A lot of the depressive nature came from the conflict between the desire and the ability to fulfill on those desires. In most cases, the yearning of the character in question was for something inaccessible or forbidden. Specifically, in the title story the artist/writer is an older man who is having romantic longings towards a younger boy...thus a yearning that is taboo and forbidden on multiple levels. By making these desires more taboo or forbidden, I felt less directly tied to the protagonist but Mann still presented the situation in a way that allowed me to feel the oppressive emotions of the struggle. In other cases the struggle is just one between a desire to create that great artistic masterpiece and the feeling of constantly falling short. It's hard to be an artist and it's easy to be hard on yourself as an artist.

Random review interlude -- A couple of favorite quotes:
"We are only as old as we feel in our hearts and minds."

"Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous - to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd."

I certainly appreciated the artistry of the story and I was impressed by the depth and detail added to the environments, characters and stories of this book. Some of the stories were a bit more engaging to me than others but generally I felt a bit disjointed from the stories and had a hard time really appreciating the various plots. What I probably enjoyed most (beyond some of the beautiful descriptions) were the semi-frequent existential and philosophical moments. Mann puts together some interesting thoughts that sat with me after closing the book. Mostly he left me feeling unsettled and dissatisfied and like I should get out and do something productive and worthwhile. To that extent, I applaud the effort of the book. Otherwise, this is a bit of classical literary artistry that I can appreciate but really don't feel like it was a "must read" or that my life is significantly improved by reading. I didn't hate it but I didn't love it. Overall, it just sort of exists on a menial plane for me.

3 out of 5 stars

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