Friday, March 30, 2012

The Good Earth (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Out of the land we came and into it we must go — and if you will hold your land you can live… 
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was made into a movie in 1937. It was even an Oprah Book Club selection. There is no doubt that this is a time-tested classic. It is well-written. It fascinates the reader with its glimpse of China at the beginning of the last century. At times, it speaks to the heart. At times, it repulses, especially when it shows the treatment of women in China.

Briefly, the novel follows the life of Wang Lung and his family from his wedding day to shortly before his death. His relationship with the earth threads its way through the plot. Some years the earth yields a bountiful crop. Other years there are deadly famines. But, until the very end, Wang Lung finds the earth a source of goodness.

The night after I finished reading The Good Earth, I actually dreamt about it, the story had that much power over me. Despite being set in China, the story transcends cultures. I am well acquainted with the love of American farmers for the land. As with a number of the early Pulitzer Prize winning novels, The Good Earth also describes what happens to the children of a self-made man. The novel is the first in a trilogy, which I hope to finish at a later time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lest Darkness Fall (Classic SF Novel)

Brandy. Sorcery. Accounting Systems. Copper Tubing. Printing Press. Reporters. Clock. Telegraph. Crossbow. Gunpowder. Politics. 

Lest Darkness Fall by David Drake is an early example of alternative history science fiction. This classic first appeared as a short story in 1939 and was first published as a novel in 1941. The story is still amusing and enjoyable to read.

Briefly, a present day — late 1930’s — archeologist is struck by lightening and sent back to 6th century Rome. There he introduces some modern inventions. But, his ultimate goal is to prevent the coming of the Dark Ages. One of his biggest obstacles is the politics of the era. Some things never change.

The novel was well worth the time I spent reading it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Genesis (SF Novel)

Sapient Machines. Freedom. Knowledge. Artificial Intelligence Networks. World Guide. Alternative Histories. Galactic Brain. Post Human Earth.

Genesis by Poul Anderson won the 2001 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. On one hand, I am not sure that I liked the book. I couldn’t connect with the characters, and most of the time the plot felt disjointed. On the other hand, I keep thinking about the book even though I finished reading it two days ago.

Briefly, the book is composed of scenes that don’t seem to fit together until the end. The reader is introduced to Christian Brannock and Laurinda Ashcroft, both of whom eventually have their human consciousness uploaded into machine consciousness. Some of the scenes are about a clan-oriented culture in a time and place that are not clear to the reader. Still other scenes are about the artificial intelligences.

In some ways, I found the book appealing. Some of us science fiction fans dream of going to the stars, knowing that it is highly unlikely in our lifetimes. If I could upload myself into a star-going machine, I would probably go for it. I am also fascinated by the idea of a society where most people had their consciousness uploaded before they died. This has almost a religious feel to it. The book is definitely thought-provoking.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Years of Grace (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Love. Expectations. Men Who Love Married Women. Generations. Durable Satisfactions. Important Women.

Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes won the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. It has the feel of a more modern novel that is set in an earlier time.—At times, I was reminded a little bit of Debbie Macomber and Alexander McCall Smith. — It deals with the timeless ideas of expectations and love. The characters were interesting and easy to relate to. The book is not overly sentimental or dramatic. What I find fascinating is that, despite being told in the third person, the narration grows up as the characters age.

Briefly, the novel follows the life of Jane Ward from the time she is 14 until she is in her earlier 50s. We see her friends and family age. We see her falling in love with Andre, Stephen, and Jimmy. Finally, we see how her children respond to life in ways that are very different from her expectations.

When I finished the book, I felt like I was leaving friends that I had just met. The novel is a pleasant read.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Laughing Boy (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Laughing Boy won the 1930 Pulitzer Prize for the novel and was made into a movie in 1934. It is a story about love and the affect of the “Americans”—the whites—on the Native American culture.

Briefly, Laughing Boy is a carefree young Navajo and a talented silversmith. At a dance he falls in love with Slim Girl. His family warns him that she is a bad girl, but he still runs away with her. They are married and go to live in the white town where Slim Girl has been living. In the beginning, Slim Girl wants to gain power over Laughing Boy and use him. When she was young, she was taken away from her parents and forced to give up her Native American ways. She sees Laughing Boy as a means to regaining her power. Eventually, she comes to love him. She learns to weave and gradually takes part in the Navajo ceremonies that Laughing Boy so loves. But, he knows that Slim Girl has secrets. The end of the story is both tragic and beautiful.

I had a hard time getting into the story. I don’t know whether it was me or the book. Yet, I feel a bit haunted by the book, imaging what it must have been like to be a child ripped away from ones culture and never feeling like one fit in.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Novel)

Human life is a long film, which can be fully understood only if one looks at what went before. 
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, released at the end of last year, is the eighth book in Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie Series. All the regular characters are back: Isabel, Jamie, Charlie, Grace, Cat, Eddie, Mr. Fox, and Professor Lettuce. I love this series where nothing much happens and yet everything happens. These novels are gentle and philosophical, reminding us of what it means to be a human being.

Briefly, in the major storyline, a fellow philosopher, from Australia, asks Isabel’s help in finding out about her birth parents. The book has numerous minor storylines. Grace receives an investment tip from a medium. When Eddie goes on a trip, a jean model takes his place at Cat’s store. Lettuce, with the help of his nephew, finally does something so outrageous that Jamie becomes angry. Isabel eats some poisonous produce. Charlie learns some interesting vocabulary. Isabel and Jamie’s relationship continues to evolve. Of course, Isabel is faces with large and small moral dilemmas.

 The Forgotten Affairs of Youth lived up to my highest expectations. I still am amazed how McCall Smith can draw me into a scene with just a few words. This novel and most of the others in the series are perfect for those times that a person needs to regroup and feel good about the world again.