In a future so distant that Earth itself is barely remembered, the universe has been colonized by humans, or Terre. They have encountered multiple strange alien species, and made peace with most of them. Perhaps no species they have found, however, have been as strange as the Ariekei. The Ariekei, called the “Hosts” by those humans who live on their world in an enclave called Embassytown, have two mouths. Their language, called Language with the capital L, is contingent upon the use of both mouths, and therefore both portions of their minds, at once. They are literally unable to comprehend any language spoken by only one mouth and one mind. The Ambassadors of Embassytown are specially-bred identical clones, called doppels, who are trained from birth to be so empathically linked that they are able to speak Language with the Hosts and be understood as two minds speaking one thought together.
Avice Benner Cho, a young woman raised in Embassytown who became an immerser, or space traveler, never thought she’d return to her childhood home. But when her husband, a linguist, becomes obsessed with the Ariekei and Language, she finds herself back in Embassytown, traveling in the Ambassadors’ social circles. But trouble is brewing. One faction of the Ariekei have become obsessed with learning to lie—Language is incapable of encompassing anything other than strict, literal truth. Even abstracts like similes must be performed by actors so that the Ariekei can refer to them. But learning to lie would change the Ariekei and their culture, and not everyone is happy with that idea. In addition, Bremen, the home nation of the colony Embassytown, has its own plan for wresting political influence away from the doppel Ambassadors. When the plans of the liar Ariekei and Bremen’s agents collide, only Avice and a small contingent of rebellious Ambassadors and Ariekei can save the colony—and the Ariekei species—from total destruction.
A very slow-starting book, the plot neverthless picks up pace dramatically in the second half. This title will reward those willing to invest the time to immerse fully in the detailed universe Mieville has created.
Each of us copes with loss in a different way. For Frank and Ellie Benton the sorrow is huge, occasioned by the death of their young son, Benny. As their marriage falters in the wake of the tragedy, Frank accepts a job offer in India, hoping that the change of scene will heal them. Once there the two face new challenges as Frank’s company deals with labor unrest, and Frank forms a strong but problematic attachment to Ramesh, his cook’s young son.
Soon Frank and Ellie have become surrogate parents to the boy, offering him everything from help with homework to weekend trips his parents could never afford. While Ellie is uneasy about Frank’s fierce attachment to the boy, she is also reluctant to deprive him of the joy the relationship brings. As Umrigar says, a happy family is but an “earlier heaven.”
As Frank seeks to recreate his earlier fatherhood through Ramesh, the villagers cope with losses of their own. Frank’s company, Herbal Solutions, has blocked their access to the medicinal trees many use to earn their living. And, through her work at a local clinic, Ellie becomes increasingly aware of the hardships these families face.
Umrigar deftly sketches in the characters’ past—their courtship and the tragedy that defines them as a couple—while exploring the personal and political ethics of their current situation. Umrigar’s characters are carefully developed, and they face fascinating moral dilemmas. The paths they take as they negotiate these obstacles keep the plot twisting and turning right up until the final, dark resolution.
Sometimes it's hard to determine just who the zombies are. This week's challenge is to read a book about a disfunctional character or family. As always, we're giving you some suggestions to get you started.
Keep your enemies close!
Bartok, Mira. The Memory Palace. (B B288)
Berg, Elizabeth. The Art of Mending. (F)
Cadwalladr, Carole. The Family Tree. (F)
Hopkins, Ellen. Burned. (F)
Karr, Mary. The Liars’ Club. (B K 183)
McMillan, Terry. A Day Late and a Dollar Short. (F)
Meyers, Randy Susan. The Murderer’s Daughters. (F)
Tropper, Jonathan. This Is Where I Leave You. (F)
Swamplandia! is a somewhat shabby tourist attraction tucked into the depths of the Everglades. Run by the Bigtree clan, it features alligator wrestling and similar performances. When Hilola Bigtree, the park’s star attraction, dies, it leaves both the park and her family unmoored. The attraction is failing, and Chief Bigtree—never the strongest business man around—leaves on a trip to the mainland to drum up money to purchase a new breed of alligator for the park. This leaves the three Bigtree children, son Kiwi and daughters Osceola and Ava, alone on their island. Kiwi, fancying himself smarter and more capable than his father the Chief, leaves as well, only to end up working a dehumanizing minimum-wage job at World of Darkness, a Hell-themed amusement park and Swamplandia’s mainland competitor. This leaves young Ava alone with her increasingly unstable older sister. Ossie has retreated into old-fashioned Victorian spiritualism and believes herself to be in love with the ghost of an Everglades dredgeman. When Ossie, too, vanishes…heading into the swamp to join her lover in the underworld…Ava takes it upon herself to rescue her from death.
Quirky and fanciful, yet always deeply grounded in believable emotion and realistic motivations, Russell’s imaginative first novel is difficult to categorize but impossible to put down.
With a western flavor, Pickard’s novel starts with the news that a locally infamous convicted killer has been released from prison. The orphan of his alleged victims, Jody, still lives in the town and has grown up in the shadow of her father’s murder and her mother’s disappearance. Pickard takes us back to the time of the murder and as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that more than one person doubts that the truth has ever been told or that justice has been done. Jody wants nothing more than retribution, and in her mind, it’s the lifetime incarceration of the man returning to town. Jody’s powerful family is behind her, but is it strong enough to withstand the truth? With plot twists to keep you guessing, this highly recommended novel is a gripping tale of small-town mystery and revenge.
I'll be the first to admit that we sometimes get a little silly with our themes. Still, we hope you have as much fun with them as we do. This week's challenge is to read a book by an author named Shaun--however you choose to spell it. As always, we've given you some choices to pick from.
Shaun, Shawn, or Sean?
Chercover, Sean. Big City, Bad Blood (MYS)
Connery, Sean. Being a Scot (941.1 C752)
Doolittle, Sean. Safer (F)
Greer, Andrew Sean. The Story of a Marriage (F)
Hutchinson, Shaun David. Deathday Letter (Browsing Teen)
Klomparens, Shawn. Jessica Z (F)
Shiflett, Shawn. Hidden Place (F)
Stewart, Sean. Galveston (F)
When zookeeper Ana Alvarado decided to refocus her career and become a software tester, she knew it would change her life…what she did not know was just how profoundly. Offered a position by start-up Blue Gamma as an “animal trainer” for their new digients (“digital entities” designed to be life-like, lovable pets for online gamers in virtual worlds), she leaps at the opportunity. Her background in animal behavior helps the company find success, creating extremely popular artificial intelligences. Their success spawns competitors in the market who use different “genetic algorithms” and training methods to evolve their own versions of the digients. Unfortunately, these competitors nudge out Blue Gamma and the company folds…but what is to become of those Blue Gamma-style digients already placed with owners, and those still homeless? The creatures are childlike, but still loving and sentient…somewhere between pets and children, but nevertheless wholly unique. Ana adopts her own digient and becomes part of a small, but vibrant and dedicated, community of digient owners fighting for the survival and the rights of their charges. When even the gaming platform for which the digients were originally designed fades into obsolesence, effectively isolating the digients in a tiny pocket universe, Ana and the other digient owners are forced to make some increasingly unpleasant and difficult moral decisions.
Despite its slender size, this novella is filled more tightly with complex abstractions, moral ambiguities, and science fictional ideas than most trilogies can contain. Chiang’s mastery of the short form is evident; while keeping a firm hand on the passage of time he is nevertheless able to pack a lifetime of background, implication, and experience into a small number of pages.
What can you say about a paranormal romance in which the love interest is a fallen angel? Not only is he a fallen angel, but he’s an angel named Patch. It's really difficult to take the character seriously with a name like that. Still, I persevered in reading this recent teen paranormal romance.
Nora is a high school student who is creeped out by her new biology partner (Patch). When it becomes apparent that he knows much more about her than she knows about him, she becomes both curious and frightened. Improbably, the straight-arrow Nora breaks into the student records’ office and looks through Patch’s file to find only blank pages. Things heat up as Patch and another mysterious new student both pursue Nora. There’s a love triangle to keep things interesting and a crazy best friend who helps Nora into plenty of trouble. This series opener is definitely teen fiction and although it holds some appeal for younger readers, it's not likely to be a crossover title. You'll find this novel in our Teen Browsing collection.
Who knows where the zombies will come from. Are they from Earth or somewhere else? This week's challenge is to read a science fiction book. We're giving you a few recommendations to get you started.
Keep your eye on the sky...they're coming!
Calder, Richard. The Twist (SF)
Flynn, Michael. Eifelheim (SF)
Mandery, Evan. First contact, or, It's later than you think (F)
Meyer, Stephenie. The Host (SF)
Niven, Larry. Footfall (SF)
Sagan, Carl. Contact (SF)
Sigler, Scott. Contagious (SF)
Silverberg, Robert. The Alien Years (SF)
It’s the rare book that can consider weighty themes without a bleak tone and plot. As readers we’re often forced to choose between literary fiction that borders on the morose and lighter fare that can feel like a waste of time. Not so with Siri Hustvedt’s new novel, Summer without Men. Hustvedt manages to examine everything from adolescent bullying to the potential grief and loneliness of old age in a charming novel that never seems depressing thanks to the wry humor of the first person narrator, Mia.
Newly separated after nearly thirty years of marriage and fresh from a brief stint in a psychiatric hospital, Mia returns to her hometown where she balances an intense introspection about her past (and life in general )with an interest in an array of women, including her young poetry students, a troubled neighbor, and her mother’s elderly friends. Mia’s compassion for these women allows her to revisit the various stages of her own life while directly addressing the reader and offering numerous asides and literary quotes and allusions regarding love and loss. Throughout Mia’s sense of humor charms the reader. She shares fantasies of releasing the rats in her husband’s lab and refers to his new girlfriend as “the Pause” and “unnamed French love object.”
Summer without Men is a quick, quirky read served up by one of the more engaging narrators in recent memory.