Novel Reactions: Radicalized

Wow, never has science fiction felt so real to me. Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized is a collection of four stories—all “what if?” scenarios people have probably thought to themselves at some point:

  • What if we take the internet of things too far?
  • What if our favorite superhero clashes with our justice system?
  • What if regular people finally crack?
  • What if the world goes into turmoil?

Of course, all of the stories stretch things (a little) too far, but, to be fair, they’re not too far from what we can imagine. All of the themes are current and familiar, and the social commentary is spot on: if these situations actually happened today, the stories in Radicalize portray potential reactions pretty well. How unfortunate.

The stories are longer than the typical short story, but each one can still be read in one sitting. I limited myself to one story each time I picked up this book because …well, it is a little chilling. Also, Cory Doctorow wrote the characters so well that, even if I didn’t love them, I understood them. Society can be crazy sometimes.

Radicalized is a very timely and worthwhile read, and I have super glad I picked it up at the bookstore. I would definitely recommend this to anyone, even to my friends who don’t really venture into sci-fi.

Novel Reactions: 99 Percent Mine

I am more or less a mood reader. I switch off to lighter romantic reads when I’m on vacation or when I’m too pooped from numerous sad endings. So this is where 99 Percent Mine comes in: I needed a source of entertainment during a time when Netflix wasn’t a good option.

The story is simple, and it was enough to keep me entertained. So… it served its purpose, but will I recommend it to anyone? Nah. I’m not a fan.

The story isn’t that special. The main girl (Darcy) is in love with her childhood friend (Tom), who is also her brother’s (Jamie’s) best friend. Additionally, the childhood friend is pretty much family and is doing the siblings a favor. (Said favor is renovating their grandmother’s cottage.)

Darcy and Tom are obviously going to get together, and it’s not the predictability that put me off. (My guilty pleasure is reading/watching romantic comedies; I always know they end well.)

Here, in more detail than people who hate spoilers will like, are my reasons for feeling meh:

  1. The main characters are not likable. Darcy is incredibly selfish. She has zero self-control and cannot accept responsibility for her actions. She thinks she’s all that (not in the way that she would brag about her work but in the way that she would always try to protect Tom). Also, Tom is not even that great. He’s placed on too high a pedestal, but he’s really just there as a brooding, juicy piece of meat.
  2. It seems like the writer needed an excuse to bring the two in extremely close quarters, so for some reason, Tom (childhood friend/contractor) camps out at the project site while Darcy lives somewhere there. Excuse me? How ridiculous is that? I get that it’s fiction, and writers can invent things, but at least let these things make sense! A lot of safety precautions have to be taken at construction sites. People cannot just come and go as they please, and contractors do not just let their inexperienced clients do manual labor on their sites. I am baffled.
  3. How can a new business owner with so much to prove skip town for two months and then take credit for all of the work done in their absence? Yes, everyone needs to take a personal day or two (been there) at some point, but to take two months without consequences? Given Tom’s background, I expected more hustle from him. I get that this is supposed to be for dramatic effect, but it would have given off the same effect and still have been more acceptable if this disappearance was cut short.

I’ve read better romantic novels. I came in looking for a fun read—to be entertained without having to think too much (basically, I needed an alternative to tv shows). It was just ok, I guess. Actually, no, it wasn’t very satisfying. Perhaps I should have read something else.

Novel Reactions: How to Stop Time

In Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, we meet Tom Hazard, who is a really old man but just doesn’t look it. He’s lived through a lot of tough times over the centuries and consequently carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. He’s a pretty broken man. I didn’t love Tom, but I did find myself rooting for him as he struggled to survive.

Nothing is truly surprising with the plot. As the story unfolded, I found myself thinking “yes, this makes sense” and never “wow, what a plot twist!!!” Despite this, the story is still quite gripping, and I enjoyed reading all the way through. What made it particularly interesting for me was how Matt Haig portrayed Tom’s past lives. No, Tom was not a big deal in any time period; he always kept to the background, but he was there witnessing key points of history. (And I do love history.)

Overall, it was a pleasant read. There is some comfort that this was a somewhat predictable story because then it felt simple and familiar and not at all intimidating. But that’s not all there is to this book. The writing was great. There was never a dull moment in How to Stop Time, and the story moved at a manageable pace. To me, this is one of the books in which the incorporation of clichés was well executed. In case anyone’s wondering: yes, I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an easy read. And to history enthusiasts.

Novel Reactions: The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

When I was in high school, my best friend lent me her copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which I absolutely loved. I enjoyed the story, the writing, and the footnotes (!!!). I never quite found or read another book that I had enjoyed in the same way.

Fast forward to (approximately) ten years later: I found an e-book copy of The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories and borrowed it from the library. Initially, I had only planned to read one story for my Short Bites segment (see entry here), but I enjoyed the first story so much that I decided to read on. And then I decided to finish the collection, reading a story every now and then.

There are eight stories in the collection. While I liked all of them, my favorites are the first (“The Ladies of Grace Adieu”) and the last (“John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner”) stories.

The writing style is similar to that of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which shouldn’t be surprising as the short stories are set in the same world. The writing reminded me of reading the classics (the stories are set in 19th century England): the vibe is formal, the humor is not as forward, and the words are spelled differently than they are today. Given these, I feel the stories require more patience from the reader.

The stories read like fairy tales, and not all of the stories include characters from the book. The collection is a nice companion to the novel (but Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is one heck of a read with ~900 pages, so no pressure to read the book), and it talks about other forms of magic that weren’t really covered in the novel.

It’s a charming escape from reality.

Novel Reactions: Flow

Mihaly Csikszentihalyi’s Flow is all about having optimal experience, leading to a state of “flow.” When you’re in a state of flow, you’re more productive, more creative, and more content. If this is the case, it sounds like flow would lead one to (or, might be the expression of) self-actualization (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), given that we’re talking about optimal experience here.

So… the concept is interesting. However, the truth of the matter is that I did not enjoy reading the book. Yes, the book is rated highly on Goodreads, and I actually read Flow based on a colleague’s recommendation, but I only finished the book as a personal challenge. If I were more well-versed with this topic, I would probably recommend that people skip this and read another book instead.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case, so thank you for introducing me to the concepts of flow and optimal experience, and if anyone else is interested in the topic, go ahead and read Flow. (May your reading experience be more optimal than mine.) I’ll let you know if I find a better alternative.

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