The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

This book was originally chosen for my now defunct sci-fi/fantasy book club.  It took me a while to get to it because I just kind of got buried by other books and then my reading slumped a bit with the pregnancy and so on and so forth.  This was the last library book I had left to read before my maternity leave and I figured it would be fast because it is so very short.  I also thought that it might prove to be atmospheric enough to pull me in and distract me because I liked the idea of reading about hot, humid lagoons and jungles.

It didn’t work.

My reading of this book went in three phases, splitting the book roughly into thirds.  First, I was in for it.  I was interested in the setting and the people and the ideas.  I told Hubby that he would probably love the book.  I let the language carry me.  Second, I was a little bored.  I don’t know why, really.  It was like a struggle to read.  The language weighed me down.  I would get through a page or two and then put it away or fall asleep.  Finally, I hit the “I just do not care” point.  I didn’t.  I almost gave up on it a number of times, even when I was only 20 pages from the end.  I had to fight to finish and it took a very long time.

The Drowned World takes place in a time when solar flares have caused the world to warm up, melting the ice caps and causing the water levels to rise.  With the rising water, silt deposits have completely changed the map of the world and now most of the globe is covered in dense jungles and lagoons.  The only truly inhabitable places are the far north and the far south.  A group of military men and scientists are in submerged London but things are beginning to go bad.  People are haunted by dreams that seem to drive them slowly insane.  When word comes for everyone to move out and back to their base, Dr. Kerans decides to stay behind with Beatrice, the only woman in the area.  They have forged comfortable lives there in penthouses with air conditioning and food stores.  Kerans’ associate, Dr. Bodkin, stays behind as well, chasing down vague memories of his childhood in the city.  Before long, a kind of pirate arrives to loot the city and as he attempts to draw the three from their self imposed isolation, it becomes apparent that he is not to be trusted.

I will agree with many that the setting and the ideas are good and that the language can at times be poetic.  That is not enough to carry a book, though, not even a short one.  I found the characters to be flat and the plot felt a little too cliche and convenient.


Ubik by Philip K. Dick

This is how I read it:  Joe Chip works for Runciter’s prudence firm, a company that combats people with psionic powers like telepathy and precognition.  Joe is a tester, someone who measures the field an anti-talent can put out to negate the psis.  When Ashwood, a recruiter, brings Pat to Joe it becomes apparent that her powers are unique.  She has the ability to move through time and change events before they even happen.  When there is an explosion on the job, Joe and the anti-talents believe that Mr. Runciter is dead.  Soon, time is moving backward around them and Joe begins to receive messages from his boss that indicate he is still alive and that everyone else is dead.  Anti-talents begin to die horrific deaths as Joe races against the clock to get Ubik, a product that may prevent his own death.  Or is what Mr. Renciter says true?  Is Joe already dead?

Dick built an interesting world to play with mortality in.  In the future 1992 that he created, people can be kept in a half-life state and still be contacted by the living.  But who is int he half-life?  What is causing the terrible deaths?  What, exactly, is Ubik?

I had a hard time figuring out what to say about this book.  It was the selection for my book club this month and I probably would not have stuck it out otherwise.  It had a very slow build for me and I wasn’t feeling very interested in it until around the 100 page mark.  The subject matter is some of the more difficult stuff for me to deal with and for a while I had to take it in small doses and then go and distract myself for a while.  I’m not saying it wasn’t worth the read or that I didn’t enjoy it at all.  It just wasn’t the book for me.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Son of a bitch.  You know, you would think that since this was like my sixth time reading this book that the ending wouldn’t frustrate me so much but it totally does.  I just want to shake Lois Lowry.  I hear that reading the quartet ties up Jonas’s story but I’m so distrustful at this point that I refuse.  I refuse!

Also, I think this is my first time reading this as an adult adult, as opposed to a college student adult.  Much creepier now.  I wish Hubby would read it so that I could say creepy things to him like, “It’s time for our Telling of Feelings now.”

Honestly, this is a classic for a reason and if you haven’t read it already, you should.

Jonas lives in a futuristic world where there is nothing unexpected and everything is safe.  In the community, people are assigned their careers, apply for spouses and children, receive their meals from Food Delivery People.  Orders and reminders are broadcast over a speaker.  In the mornings, families share their dreams.  In the evenings, they tell their feelings.  There is no color, no weather, and no emotion.  When somebody commits a serious offense against the rules, they are “released.”  Every home only has three books: a dictionary, a rule book, and a directory.

Jonas is about to turn 12, which every child born in his year does at the same time at a ceremony.  At 12, children are assigned their work and begin to train for their careers.  Jonas is nervous.  There is nothing that he is particularly interested in or good at, though he does well at most things and is open to possibilities.  But when it is his turn to receive his assignment, the Chief Elder passes over him completely.  Jonas’s stomach automatically drops.  What did he do wrong?

But Jonas was chosen.

The most honorable position in all of their community is that of Receiver.  The Receiver holds all of the memories of the imperfect past so that the other members of the community don’t have to.  The Receiver has wisdom from the memories and is sometimes asked to give an opinion on a change in the rules based on this wisdom.  When Jonas begins to receive the memories, he begins to question the world around him and whether it is better than the way the world used to be.  Is it different Elsewhere?  How can he find out?

I’m surprised by a lot of the comments and reviews that I see about this book.  It is a quick, easy, and engrossing read.  Claiming that it is “oversimplified” is kind of silly.  It is aimed at children.  I believe that I was 10 when I first read it and would have been in a classroom of mostly 11 year olds.  It manages to get into weighty, great to discuss subject matter without being bogged down with a lot of difficult to grasp subject matter.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

I read this one as part of my Sci-Fi/Fantasy club.  After a couple of rough books, this was a wonderful relief.  I loved it.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I gave a hearty, “Yay, Lessa!”  I asked my husband if I could have a dragon.  (Though, the torti cat is pretty close to one sometimes…)

Lessa has been hiding out in Ruatha since the day Fax’s troops stormed the castle and killed her family.  Only the watch-wher knows who she is.  When F’lar, the rider of a great bronze dragon, brings his men in search of a new weyrwoman, she sees her chance of destroying Fax.  Lessa is smart, determined, and capable of manipulating others with ease.  When she manages to force F’lar’s hand in offing Fax, she see’s only that she will soon reclaim her hold.  Then F’lar offers her a chance to weyrwoman.

Pern is in trouble.  The ancient enemies, Threads that come from the red star, are about to fall and they are short on dragons and support.  The legends are fading away in the minds of the common people who know only that they are sending their harvests on to an outdated tradition.  F’lar and Lessa must find a way to solve these problems, and fast, before the whole planet is destroyed.

Another book that I wish I had been able to read faster.  I could barely put it down at the end.  Still want a dragon.

The Female Man by Joanna Russ

This was the first book selected for my scifi/fantasy book club.  In order to prevent the lag that occurs when people choose horrible books, I selected a list of 50 “to read before you die” books and made a book jar.  This was a rough start.

The comment that keeps coming up is that The Female Man is a feminist book, no scifi.  Yes, there are scifi elements to it but they are so much thinner than the feminist agenda.  Now, I am a feminist and I get what Russ is trying to do but even I felt that it was too heavy handed at times.

The Female Man is about four J’s: Joanna, Jeannine, Janet, and Jael.  In essence, these women are the same women living in different times and realities.  They have been shaped by their realities so that each one is different.  They have been collected together by Jael who is fighting an actual battle of the sexes in her time and wants them to allow her to place stuff in their realities, bases and soldiers and such.  However, the J’s made the book very hard to follow and the characters didn’t feel distinct enough to tell apart until about half way through the book.

I agree with a lot of the social commentary that is made throughout.  My problem with this book is that it doesn’t feel true to me.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Of course it’s not true.  It’s fiction.”  If you read enough, you can tell when an author is not telling the truth.  I could never pin it down but I never trusted this story.

I would like to see this exact book tackled now.  I think that would be interesting to see.