Archive for August, 2013

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Kitchen

August 28, 2013

50144This book consists of two novelette: Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow. I like the second one better than the first one. Both novelette centered the story on the lost of loved one, desperation to live, and the struggle of moving on.

I read the English translation; somehow I feel that there is something missing in the translation. I cannot get the feel of the Japanese culture and way of thinking. I don’t know, maybe it is just me. I wish I could read the original Japanese.

Now on the novel itself. I give it only a three stars. I find it only up to par. I myself prefer I deeper one. Maybe because it touch only the emotional side, not including the rational and philosophical side. Maybe because it is too short, considering that it is only novelette. I just read Among Others, and I cannot help to compare them. Both novels are exploring the grief after being left by the loved one by death. Among Others is more profound and deep. Maybe it is not an apple to apple comparison, comparing that one is a novelette and the other is a full-length novel.

The best part of the novel is the unique point of view of several characters in it. Some of them are the point of views of transvestite and cross-dresser. I admit that it never crosses my mind, it is unique and genuine. If the writer is willing to explore more on that, than it can be quite a unique novel, and I will give it an extra star.

Verdict: 3 STARS.

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The Dispossessed

August 21, 2013

756970It is very difficult to review this novel, because it is not just merely a science fiction novel, but a political commentary. In order to give this novel a proper reply, I might have to do a thorough research (which I might do someday, given the circumstances) and write a full-length thesis.

This novel is a political commentary, comparing two opposing ideology: ‘propertarianism’ in planet Urras, which is based on ownership, and anarcho-syndicalism in planet Anarres, which is based on no ownership, hence the title “The Dispossessed”. The story is told from the point of view of Dr. Shevek, a physics scientist from Anarres, which is invited to witness the life of their counterpart in Urras.

The plot is not the strongest point of this novel, even it is engaging at some points. So if you are a plot junkies, you might get disappointed. This book is about ideas, and you can find ideas are debated, rebutted, crushed, defended along this novel. It is the ideas that make this book alive. And once I read it, it kept ringing in my head and haunt my dream. At some points it answers some of my questions, but most of the time, it gives me new questions to ponder.

Here are some of them:
1. Is it possible that a society exists without ownership?
Ownership is so engrained in our modern society, so that we cannot possibly think of a society without it. So does with money. (I am doing a thesis on the philosophy of money, and struggle with it). What we have here is a thought experiment. What if… it is possible. In here Le Guin gives us a possible working anarcho-syndicalist society, a society without ownership and without sovereign power. We govern ourselves. The government bodies is voluntary, and rotated. The job is also rotated via DivLab (division of labor) department, which is a database computer. Manual job is rotated also for everybody, because we need to give our muscle a chance to work (not just in gym like hamsters playing wheel).

2. What is education? What is ideas?
What is the best way of generating ideas. By gaining profit on it like a ‘propertarian’? Or simply because the love of it, like a pure amateur. What is university? There is one quote that I love about university:

In feudal times the aristocracy had sent their sons to university, conferring superiority on the institution. Nowadays it was the other way round: the university conferred superiority on the man.

How true!
And this one:

It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.

The idea of ‘owning’ and idea is a crap, unthinkable. How can you own an idea! Unfortunately Le Guin does not go at length at this, given this novel was first published in 1974, before intellectual property right regime is so strong to a point of bullshit like nowadays.

3. What makes a brotherhood (or sisterhood to make it fair) possible?
Le Guin’s argument has a hint of Buddhism. Here is what she said:

“The reality of our life is in love, in solidarity,” said a tall, soft-eyed girl. “Love is the true condition of human life.”

Bedap shook his head. “No. Shev’s right,” he said. “Love’s just one of the ways through, and it can go wrong, and miss. Pain never misses. But therefore we don’t have much choice about enduring it! We will, whether we want to or not.”

The reality of this life is pain, or in Buddhist term called ‘dukkha’. Like the Buddhist said, it is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, merely realistic.
Damned!

And pretty much more…

But two things especially capture me. It is the question of manual labor and the law of inheritance.

1. Schooling has been a way of avoiding manual labor; so the least fortunate of us, which are not bright enough or wealthy enough to get a degree are doomed to do manual labor, that everybody abhors.
This thought has haunted me very long. In Anarres, manual labor is rotated for EVERYBODY. Everyone needs to do the share. No one has the privilege to avoid manual labor, even the brightest one (the wealthiest one does not count, because there are simply no ownership).

2. Law of inheritance has made an uneven starting point in the beginning or their life, especially if you don’t live in a welfare state. In Anarres, even a child is not a property. A child belongs to the society, so the society will take care of it. Sound like Sparta, right? Actually there are primitive societies that practice this. So if you are a child in this primitive society, you can have your lunch in anybody’s house, because you are the child of everyone.

I am not going to answer those question. Simply to think about it is hard enough. Those are questions for a life time.

This is the reason why I give this novel a FIVE STAR. It gives you enough material to think for your entire life time. The one that I mention here just some of them, there are plenty of others. Like I said, I might need to write a thesis about it, someday.

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The Faded Sun: Kesrith

August 14, 2013

126496This book is my first C.J. Cherryh book, and certainly will not be the last. She got me hook into her story telling style, the richness of the world design, the race description, and the conflict.

The setting is the aftermath of human vs regul war, in a planet called Kesrith, surrounding what looks like a red giant star. Regul was hiring another race as mercenary, the mri, a warrior-like race. The war ends in human favor, regul surrendering a system, in which Kesrith lied. Thus the story begins, for Kesrith is going to receive its new master, human.

Being the first of the Faded Sun series, this novel serves as an intro to the series. Not surprisingly, the world creation takes most part in this novel. The creation of three sentient race: human (no need to explain), regul, dan mri, is really top notch. Each is unique in its own way. Human with its herd psychology, regul with its superior intellegence, but coward, and mri with its strong sense of duty and chivalry. It is also very interesting to see that the two other race are not capable of lying for different reason. The regul cannot lie because of their super memory and intelligence. A lie will create an inconsistency in the logic that is too difficult for them to handle, and can create a “brainstorm”. While the mri cannot lie because of their chivalrous code, lying will make them a low creature. The explanation about the planet Kesrith is not as detail as the explanation of the race. We just know that it is a harsh planet, difficult to find water and has extreme storm. Maybe it is something like the planet in Dune.

But, those strong points above, also becomes the weak points for this novel. The plot merely serves the world building, therefore makes the novel less interesting for general readership. If the human character Duncan were introduced earlier, I believe that the story would become more interesting.

As a novel, it is not very powerful. But as an intro to the series, I find this novel very interesting, which will make me to continue reading the series. 3 STAR.

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Steal Across the Sky

August 7, 2013

5226164This is the best sci-fi that I have read for this year, so far. It’s at the pinnacle of the sci-fi world in asking the “what-if” question.

I am not going to give in any detail on the story, it will be a major spoiler. DO NOT READ any review with spoiler in it, because it will destroy the pleasure of reading and finding out.

In first few pages, it does not look like any different compared to common sci-fi. Several human astronaut, selected by ET that just visited the Earth, on mission to “witness” several planet. The alien itself, called Atoner because they want to atone their previous sin against humanity. The entire “witness” program is in accordance with their atonement program. The big question is, WHAT TO WITNESS? The answer will change humanity beyond the wildest dream.

And Nancy Kress dropped the bomb exactly on the spot. I cannot really imagine what will really happened if this story is a true story. The upheaval, the outrage, the chaos! Everything that we believe in, everything that is dear to us! This is indeed one of the best sci-fi that boldly go where no man has gone before.

Why I give it only 4 stars, not 5 stars. The bomb is drop in the middle of the book. After the bomb, everything is just the aftermath. Even though there are many events that unravel unpredictably, but still, the biggest bomb is dropped already. The journey has gone downhill afterwards.

I personally applauds the author for elaborating the effect of such profound question, on religion, culture, science, and even crime and mystery novel! Good job, Nancy Kress. You are one of my favorite now.