Monday, November 29, 2010

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

The Year of the Flood sucks you into a time at least 200 years into the future where our present has become history. Most of the animals we know are extinct or have been genetically combined to create something new. The political structure has shifted so now things are run by corporations and you either live under their manipulative protection in gated communities or outside them in slums full of gangs and violence. Consumerism and the results of too much scientific experimentation have enveloped humanity like a tidal wave.

A variety of religious cults have popped up for those wishing to live a different existence than what the corporate communities and gangs provide. The Gardeners is one such cult with strict ideas on how to live in order to return to the ways of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They want to return to a simpler way of living without genetically engineered food and mass-produced materialistic possessions. They live on the fringe of society using abandoned space to grow their own food and squat in to survive.

In particular, we follow the lives of Ren and Toby - two female Gardeners who grow up before a waterless flood of disease cascades over the world decimating the human race. By luck, they both survive and coincidentally come together to find a new start in a changed world. Both have sordid experiences in their histories before the flood occurs making them strong enough to survive the aftermath of the flood. Their stories are shared as the narrative jumps from the present to flashbacks, catching up eventually to our characters' present.

No detail is overlooks as Atwood shares this potential era in human history. You know these characters like old friends, could walk the streets of these communities with familiarity. This complete picture makes the story so engaging and almost terrifying to "watch" these people struggle in a world so unlike ours today yet not outside the realistic realm of possibilities for our future. In true Atwood style, the world we live in has been worn away by time but remnants of it appear as we're taken through this imagined future.

Through death, disease, heartbreak, and terror, humanity survives. Life as they know it changes dramatically with a future that isn't entirely clear, but there is hope left after the waterless flood washes over the world, punishing it for its indulgences.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom

I think I'm the wrong audience for this book. It was written by a Brit who lives in Ireland and takes place in London and a small, Northern Ireland town. It was reviewed as a comedic story, but I seem to have missed what makes it funny. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but to me, the main character, Israel Armstrong, isn't funny or entertaining at all - he's pathetic. He's not even "comically inept" as the London Times suggests (by way of a quote on the book's cover.) So, my final impression is one of confusion. I'm confused about why this book is funny. I'm confused about why the blundering librarian, Israel Armstrong, is our hero. And, I'm especially confused about how this book is considered a mystery when it's completely lacking any intrigue.

Here's the set up: Israel Armstrong comes to a small northern town in Ireland to serve as the local librarian. He arrives to find the public library has been shut down, converted to a mobile library. However, all the books are missing - the library can't actually function - so Israel's job goes from librarian to detective. Seeing the role of mobile librarian as a professional insult, Israel will only locate the missing books if in doing so, his contract will be cancelled and he can return to "civilization" in London. His tactic for solving this big mystery? Driving around town accusing people of theft while repeatedly getting injured and saying, "Agghh" a lot. He makes no friends in the town and is portrayed as a giant fish-out-of-water whenever possible. In the end, the books get recovered and Israel stumbles upon a totally unrelated in justice (or "mystery") that ingratiates him with the townsfolk.

The book's mystery never has a big "wow" payoff, it's actually rather silly if you ask me. To sort of spoil the ending so I can complain about it: The books were never actually missing, they'd just been relocated and the library was still technically intact. Anticlimactic!!

While the story itself left a lot to be desired there's nothing actually wrong with the writing here. Sansom puts together a complete and comprehensive story with just the right amounts of detail to paint a realistic picture of this small town and the people living in it. I just didn't get anything out of the town other than a little, local, Irish flavor.