Wednesday, September 20, 2017

G.K. Chesterton's THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY

Mention Gilbert Keith Chesterton to most people nowadays, and they'll probably know him as the author of the Father Brown mysteries and not much else (unless you're mentioning him to Roman Catholics, who might know him for a lot of excellent apologetics for their faith). Unless that person was me, for I have mostly thought of him as that guy who wrote that epic poem about "the last knight of Europe" and the Battle of Lepanto, and I'd have said, "oh, he wrote prose, too?"

So he's kind of like the elephant encountered by all of those blind men who could never agree on what kind of creature they were meant to describe, which is of course hilarious because G.K. Chesterton was himself a pretty large and imposing figure of a man, much like the enigmatic driving force of The Man Who was Thursday, a fantastic allegorical thriller/detective story that (REMEMBER THE VERY BLOG DESCRIPTION TEXT ABOVE SAYS "WARE SPOILERS" SO, YOU KNOW, NO BITCHING) pits a small army of secret policemen against another small army of not-so-secret anarchists, only to eventually lob a bomb of a revelation into the reader's lap that there's actually just the one small army, yuck yuck yuck.

I say yuck yuck yuck as if to mock the story's attempts at humor, but those attempts are actually quite successful. Each plot twist and reveal is skillfully done even as the broad slapstick silliness of each ramps up the broad slapstick silliness of the whole. But where humor usually relieves tension in a scene or story, Chesterton's humor, here, actually manages to make the tension "worse" -- scare quotes here because the worsening of the tension is just so damned enjoyable, whether the reader has yet figured out the final punchline of the joke or not.

I suspect that nowadays, most readers will have anticipated that punchline by at least halfway, if not a quarter of the way, through the story, but as I often maintain (especially when people complain about spoilers), a story that relies solely on surprise for its ultimate effectiveness is not really much of a story. Citizen Kane is still enjoyable if you first heard the secret of Rosebud decades before you actually got to see the film; ditto The Man Who Was Thursday if you've figured out who Sunday "really" is early in the reading.

I put "really" in scare quotes because, of course, Sunday (the characters' names are all their day-of-the-week code names within the anarchist society, the governing board of which meets in glorious public view the better to make the public and the police assume they're just a bunch of ridiculous dilettantes) has an allegorical identity quite beyond his dual role within the world of the story, though both within and without the story, he is the puppetmaster, and seeing him as that and no more is just fine. Seeing him as God, as some chose to do, has about as much impact on the enjoyability of the work as seeing Aslan as Jesus does for the Chronicles of Narnia. Well, aren't you clever.

Regardless of whether one is the kind of reader who seeks to decode literature, who, I suspect, might not like this work quite as much as the kind of reader who is happy to enjoy a surface narrative and maybe idly speculate a little about its Deeper Significance does, The Man Who Was Thursday has quite a lot to offer, quite apart from the slapstick humor of its plot twists and reveals. There are some exquisitely intense scenes when the protagonist provocateur might be about to have his cover blown; there are some genuinely thrilling chase scenes that, as I said before, are even more exciting because they are also funny as hell.

It's a classic for a reason.

Hilary Mantel's BRING UP THE BODIES

As a title, Bring Up the Bodies sounds to a modern book-browser like it must surely concern the uncovering of a previously unknown mass grave, or at least of an exhumation, but as Hilary-Mantel-As-Thomas-Cromwell explains in this sequel to Wolf Hall, it's an old phrase meaning simply to bring the accused into the courtroom or other facility in which they are to be tried, as opposed to just leaving them in their cells while their fates are decided. The bodies, in other words, are still alive.

For now.

As the previous book chronicled the rise of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife, as documented by one of the chief architects of that rise, so this second chronicles her fall, and, incidentally, that of several brash young noblemen who all, coincidentally, once staged a simply hilarious masquerade play in which several demons dragged the soul of Cardinal Wosley to hell. Wosley was Cromwell's patron, and so Thomas was not impressed with these theatrics, except in that they gave him a bit of an Arya Stark list of people who needed to eat turd before he died. He remembers the performance so vividly that, despite their masks, years later he is given to referring to them in his mind based on which of the pretend Cardinal's limbs each man held during the dragging scene.

The suggestion that maybe not all of Anne Boleyn's supposed lovers actually were her lovers is only occasionally entertained, and not all that seriously, both in the world of the book as a whole and in the internal musings of Cromwell as viewpoint character, but this habit of Cromwell's of referring to them by limb strongly suggests it anyway. Maybe some of them did help her cuckold Henry VIII, but pretty much all of them were on Cromwell's list, from the play and from some other events.

The list joins the looming fact of Wolf Hall (family home of Jane Seymour, lady-in-waiting to both Queen 1.0 and Queen 2.0 and, of course, destined to become Queen 3.0) and its inhabitants, and also Cromwell's eventual fate as another cast-off of Henry's*, as sort of haunting omnipresent ghosts-to-be in a way that really distinguishes these books from more ordinary and straightforward works of historical fiction -- though of course this is less apparent in the television adaptation. Expressive as Mark Rylance's face is, you can't really tell which bit of his list is being checked off after a conversation, unless you have read the books and have very good recall. A lot of nuance and ambiguity gets lost in the translation.

Speaking, though, of ambiguity, Bring Up the Bodies is a bit easier reading than its predecessor, with a more conventional prose style and a lot fewer ambiguous pronouns -- though it's still a good idea to remind oneself that if it's not immediately obvious that a "he" or "him" is referring to somebody else, it's probably Cromwell, even if he's not the subject of the sentence or paragraph in question. It still amuses me to no end to see this, for, of course, in any ordinary account of this period the He who needeth no attribution is Henry VIII.

The focus on Cromwell, self-made and no-nonsense and sympathetic without in any way seeming like the kind of guy who'd have wanted anyone's sympathy (though his loss, last novel, of his wife and daughters to the "sweating sickness" is delicately and tragically portrayed), is a refreshing change from the kinds of fictional biographies of kings and queens that I mostly seem to come across in, e.g. Jean Plaidy or Philippa Gregory, or of the larger-than-life heroics and histrionics of Dorothy Dunnett's unbelievably accomplished heroes. Cromwell feels more accessible and believable than any of these, sound and unflashy (but never boring) and perfectly transparent of motivation and still very firmly in control of it all as the Bodies are Brought Up.

I almost don't want to read the legendary and long-promised third book of this series, whenever it sees the light of day, because watching his fall might be more than I can bear.... But who am I kidding? Of course I'll read it, if and when it happens.

*Cromwell, instrumental in the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn and in the rise of Jane Seymour, when called upon to find yet another wife after Jane's sad demise, finally failed in that mission, after a fashion, when he helped arrange Anne of Cleves' becoming Queen 4.0. This Anne was great on paper, an eligible Protestant who seemed okay looking in official portraits, but in person was not attractive enough for Henry, who never consummated the marriage, tucked her away in a nice estate with a decent little household far away from him, and referred to for the rest of his life as his dear sister (I'd argue that she made out the best of all of his wives, since she never actually had to put up with him). Cromwell's standing with the king never recovered, and he was eventually himself executed on the king's orders.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Lois McMaster Bujold's THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE

It's considered simply scandalous in many of my circles to have never read any of Lois McMaster Bujold's famous and sprawling Vorkosigan saga, but as it turns out, I'm pretty glad that I hadn't until now, because that scandalousness landed me in the best and most amusing circumstances in which to read these books at long last, to wit, I am a Reading Ranger over at Skiffy and Fanty*, part of a revolving crew of podcasters who occasionally get together for a group geek-out over them now. Some of us are Vorkosigan veterans (of the likes of Alex Acks and Paul Weimer) and some of us, including Stina Leicht (yes, that Stina Leicht) and myself, are reading these books for the very first time. There are two episodes of Reading Rangers so far, covering the first two books (going on narrative internal chronology, rather than publication order), Shards of Honor and Barrayar, over at Skiffy and Fanty, so if you want to hear my thoughts as well as the rest of the gang's, go give those a listen. I'm only a little bit of a heretic over there.

But so, this time around I'm not in the rotation for the show, so I'm just treating this third novel, The Warrior's Apprentice, as a regular read here at Kate of Mind.

Spoiler alert: I loved it.

I wasn't entirely expecting to, mind. As those who've already listened to Reading Rangers know, I was quite taken with the heroine of the first two novels, one Cordelia Naismith, who is the mother of the hero of, I gather, pretty much all of the other novels. When I learned that the focus was going to shift rather abruptly (from my perspective) to her son, Miles, I was a little let down, because Cordelia is everything I never get in a space opera hero: not only a woman, but a single and middle-aged woman, who nonetheless kicks a lot of ass and only takes names when she marries maybe the only dude in the universe possibly worthy of her, a crusty, battered, smart and tough-as-nails artistocrat from another world.

But so, Miles. Remember Miles? This is a book about Miles. Except to understand Miles one needs a bit more backstory: Cordelia's aristocratic military husband, Aral Vorkosigan, is a man of such high position and influence, and so incorruptible, that he has a ton of enemies, some of whom want him dead, one of whom actually tried and almost succeeded, but Cordelia, while pregnant with Miles, was also affected by the attempt, and fetal Miles even more so. So he's short, a little malformed, and has extraordinarily brittle bones. And he's grown up in a culture that is equal parts Roman and Russian Empires, meaning that quite a lot is expected of aristrocrats' sons, including excellence in military service. Which means it's a wonder he's even been allowed to live.

So Miles has grown up watchful and wily, smart and observant and thinking around corners and pretty much like the literary bastard offspring of Tyrion Lannister and Francis Crawford of Lymond, except he's not a drunken lecher, nor is he a pretentious emo pain in the ass. One of the greatest characters ever to grace genre fiction, is Miles Vorkosigan.

Here in his first novel we meet him as a young man, struggling through the entrance requirements for a military academy/officer candidate school. He's aced all the written stuff but as for the physical stuff, well, not-quite-dwarf and not-quite-straight-spine and brittle bones, what do you think? Soon his career is under a cloud and no one is quite sure what to do with him, so he gets sent off to visit his maternal grandmother on Cordelia's home planet, which has a very different and more accepting culture, by the bye.

Not that he's there long, either. Along with his bodyguard, the gruff and dangerous Konstantin Bothari (who has a long and complicated history of his own and whose fortunes are very much tied up with Miles' parents) and his beautiful daughter Elena (Miles' childhood friend, very much an Arya Stark type, as her father is trying to shoehorn her into a life of genteel femininity, but she likes to fight and think and drink and know things), he's soon off on a half-assed adventure out in space on an obsolete freighter he's mortgaged himself to the hilt to lease/purchase because of reasons and he's running blockades and bluffing mercenaries and telling lies and meanwhile, back at home, his adventures are having bizarre and Byzantine consequences because did I mention his home world is an honor culture nightmare?

All this told in a great, elegant prose style with a lot of vivid imagery and analogy. We like, at Reading Rangers, to linger and dote over our favorite bits, and I have a lot of them, but probably my favorite favorite bit is really Bujold's style in a nutshell. As Miles prepares to go into battle, he thinks "This must surely be the worst part, waiting helplessly for Tung to deliver them like cartons of eggs, as fragile, as messy when broken." Oh man, that is the stuff!

So, it's with difficulty that I'm not plunging right into Miles' next adventure, but I'm waiting for more Reading Ranger adventures, and meanwhile, I've got lots of ARCs piling up for review over at Skiffy and Fanty. And other things.

And I'm not sure what Vorkosigan book we're doing next anyway.

*Speaking of Skiffy and Fanty, I'm now a book reviewer over there, too, which is why I've not been posting on books to this blog as often as I once did. It's a WordPress blog so I'm having difficulty creating an overall link to my posts there, but the most recent one, on a recently Kickstartered anthology called Strange California, is here.

Michael Lewis' FLASH BOYS: A WALL STREET REVOLT

I always pick up a volume of Michael Lewis' special brand of financial crisis literature expecting a whole lot of anger, a whole lot of despair, and a whole lot of edification about just how messed up our System of the World* really is. As I've mentioned before, it's kind of a sickness of mine. I can't stop reading about it, but to no end other than to raise my blood pressure, it would seem, because what can I do about it? I'm not an investor and never will be. I've been a politician and don't ever want to do time in that barrel again. And since my arms and hands went to hell, I don't even write much anymore. But still, these books.

But then comes Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, and what's special about it is all there after the colon in the title. For while of course this book lays out in gruesome detail yet another way in which the world of high finance is designed to screw over the little guy, right alongside its anatomy of a giant scam is the story of a handful of very smart and very strange guys who not only figured out how it all worked, but figured out a way to fix the problem and actually put their plan in motion and created a whole new stock exchange built on the principles of fairness to the investor.

The problem these Flash Boys tackled is the kind of thing that should make any decent person's blood boil: with the computerization of all of the world's stock markets came a myriad of opportunities to rig the game against not just the ordinary Joe Blow investor throwing a few thousand dollars around trying to get rich, but also against all of the even more ordinary Joe Blow workers whose pension funds are being thrown around Wall Street, too. And of course those opportunities were not overlooked.

It's all to do with High Frequency Traders (HFTs), many of whom invested ungodly amounts of money in high speed data connections to the stock markets and to investment banks' dark pools, and in computer server placement as physically close to the machines that actually run these as possible, because this allowed them to engage in front-running. When their software bots saw someone buying shares in a particular stock, they triggered other software bots to buy up all of that stock that was available in fractions of a second before the original schlub's order was fulfilled, and thus to drive the price of that stock up a little, and make the schlub pay more for the stock than he should have, to the slight profit of the HFT. Thousands and thousands of times a day. Meaning ungodly amounts of money was transferred from small time investors, hobbyists, pension funds, hedge funds, what have you, to these HFTs, making an incredibly handsome return on their ungodly investment in fiber optic cable, land easements, construction fees and server real estate. Yeah, I know. And it gets worse, because this was all made possible by some newish Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rulings. That were, of course, made by members who have worked in and later tend to go back to jobs in the big investment banks, etc. Foxes, henhouse....

But so, most of Lewis' books that I've read so far have been concerned chiefly with financial villains, and this book certainly felt like another one of those for quite a while. I was hunting up my pitchfork and rounding up some torch-bearers (this was before Charlottesville, OK?) and ready to go knocking on doors in New Jersey, if not Manhattan itself.

But that's not who Lewis' Flash Boys are. The Flash Boys are Brad Katsuyama, once an obscure employee of the Royal Bank of Canada, and the team he put together to figure out why his trades had suddenly become impossible, and then to try to figure out how big the scheme was, and lastly to design and build a stock market that leveled the playing field again. I could almost cheer them as heroes, but in doing so, I'd be celebrating something that in itself still makes me mad, because this is what regulators are supposed to do, except over the years we've cut back on regulators' power, numbers (as in staffing), scope and compensation, all assuring that the revolving door between the public and private sectors of Wall Street keeps spinning faster than Karl Marx does in his grave. How many Brad Katsuyamas has this world produced, this man who would rather figure out a problem and fix it than figure out a problem and profit handsomely from it?

At bottom, Flash Boys is a pretty good detective story, unraveling and explaining very well a very complex and bewildering scheme in a way that gave me a nice strong illusion that I sort of understand it now, but am still powerless to do anything about it except vaguely cheer for Katsuyama and continue to nurse a major hate-on for Wall Street, even as I know that most of what makes my life possible is inextricably tied to its machinations, for good or ill.

Dammit.

*To borrow Isaac Newton's phrase by way of Neal Stephenson.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Libbie Hawker's HOUSE OF REJOICING

Ever since my mother got a Kindle Paperwhite of her very own and she and I joined into a single household on there, all kind of surprises await me every time I hit the "cloud" tab and start sorting through the backlog for my next read. And as I've mentioned before, my mom has pretty excellent taste in books, for all that she likes murder mysteries a lot more than I do.

She also likes historical fiction, especially about Egypt, especially about Egyptian women, so this first book of Libbie Hawker's "Book of Coming Forth by Day" trilogy probably didn't linger long on her TBR pile -- nor did it on mine, once I knew it was a thing.

House of Rejoicing is set early in the reign of the Pharaoh we mostly know as Akhenaten, and concerns itself with four women who are usually just decorative bits in the background of his story of attempted imposition of monotheism on the land of jackal-headed and crocodilian deities: his mother, Tiye, her daughter Sitamun (whom first Tiye's husband Amunhotep III and later Akhenaten himself married, and yes, Sitamun was Amunhotep's daughter, too; this is Egypt, remember? Targaryens except for real, yo), and two of Akhenaten's other wives, the famous Nefertiti (of the iconic bust) and the lesser-known Kiya.*

In the style that has become fashionable since George R.R. Martin first started singing of Ice and Fire, the story is told in point of view chapters that shift the focus among the four women, though overall this first book seems chiefly concerned with the experiences of Kiya, who serves as our naive guide into this world as she discovers how different it is from her native land, and Tiye, whose power is waning at the worst possible time. As in Martin et al, the narrative voice does not shift, as it's all written in the third person, but the experiences of the four queens are different enough to keep the reader from confusing them, and their stories are all compelling and full of convincing and appealing detail.

Being the first novel of a trilogy, House of Rejoicing mostly just lays groundwork for tensions to come. We are given a multifaceted look at the man who will be Akhenatenm, from his mother's disappointed concern to Nefertiti's disgusted scorn (she was supposed to marry his handsome and talented older brother, but he died in what might not have been an accident, of course), to Sitamun's resigned acceptance, to, perhaps surprisingly, what often seems like genuine love and affection for the man on the part of Kiya, to whom he was the only one who really paid attention when she came originally to marry Akhenaten's father. We get just glimpses of what this man's eccentricities are going to mean for his realm later on. I hope that the later books broaden the scope a bit, but only if Hawker can pull that off without losing what makes her take on these characters unique, which is largely the perspective of Kiya and what Hawker portrays as her genuine love for the young Akhenaten.

I'm down for the other two!

*Whom many have suggested might have been the same person as Nefertiti, but I think most scholars nowadays them to have been different people, with Nefertiti being a daughter of native Egyptian nobility and Kiya a foreign princess from the kingdom of Mittani. This is the history Hawker follows for these novels, anyway.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dorothy Dunnett's THE UNICORN HUNT

I've already had one bout of impatience with Niccolo, his opacity, his motivations and his less than stellar treatment of his companions, but things got much, much worse in The Unicorn Hunt, even though I once again got to see sights and have experiences that are really not available to me in meatspace life. Niccolo has just become a real jackass of a tour guide.

Of course this is all fallout from the knife-twist of an ending that Scales of Gold brought us (spoilers for that novel follow. What are you even doing reading this review if you haven't read that book anyway?). Gelis van Borsalen, once just the bratty younger sister of Niccolo's lover Katelina, took the virago route to better hound Niccolo about her sister's sad fate, for which she and all of Niccolo's other enemies still blamed him, and forced herself on him as a traveling companion, the better to simultaneously berate him and get the gory details about what became of poor Katelina. But of course, of course, of course, she wound up sleeping with him. A lot. And they decided that maybe they liked each other well enough to maybe get married when they got home from their African adventures. Which they did, but only after Gelis spent some time in Scotland as a maid-of-honor to Princess Mary. Where her orbit intersected with that of Niccolo's very estranged maybe-father, Simon de St. Pol*. Very intimately. Oh, look, she wasn't through trying to punish Niccolo, was she?

So now Gelis claims to be pregnant, but not by her shiny new husband. And her shiny new husband is still reeling from the news that Loppe (whom we now call Umar because that was his actual name all along) was killed along with his entire family in a massacre back at Timbuktu.

So what with one thing and another, The Unicorn Hunt is one giant traveling temper tantrum on the part of Niccolo. As we travel with him from Bruges to Scotland to the Tyrol to Egypt to Cyprus to Venice, we are meant to understand that a very elaborate and subtle game is going on between our hero and his crafty wife, but it really just looks like Niccolo has gone right off the rails, picking fights with former friends, viciously attacking old enemies in unconscionably harsh ways, lying to his companions (well, he always does that, but it's usually in some way for their own good? Or at least not seemingly just for the sake of being a jerk?) and generally just causing trouble for everybody. There are allusions strewn throughout the narrative to things being "steps" in a "plan"  but I could never figure out what the plan really was or even what it was supposed to accomplish, save finally flushing out Gelis, who hid herself away after their wedding night, claims to have given birth but keeps spiriting away the alleged child before Niccolo can even lay eyes on it, but if that's all that was aimed for, it's the most unnecessarily convoluted Rube Goldberg machine of a plan, maybe ever, and it didn't work too well anyway.

What saved this novel for me was a new character, a sort of proto-Phillippa Somerville named Katelijne, niece of Niccolo's one time good friend and protector Anselm Adorne, whose antics in Niccolo's train and wake are highly original and entertaining and who takes no crap from anybody, even when she's mortally ill. That and my love for many of the secondary characters in Niccolo's company, especially physician Tobie, sailor Michael Crackbene, Grigorio the lawyer and his mistress, Margo... I'm always happy to see any of them in a Niccolo novel (and many of the others besides, but some got left in Bruges, or Scotland, or Venice, etc.).

And believe me, this novel needed saving, because not only has its hero turned into a world class asshat, but he's also, midway through an eight-volume series of highly realistic, plausible and naturalistic historical fiction, suddenly manifested a supernatural talent that then serves to get him out of all of his plot difficulties: he's a diviner. Not just a water witch, though he is that; he can also divine seams of precious metals waiting to be mined, find stashes of already coined precious metals, and even, via the trick of tying an object to a string and swinging it over a map, find people who are hiding from him. Dudes, I'm about ready to give up right here.

But still, it's Dunnett. And despite all of the things that made me want to tear my hair out, there are still wonderful things to be had from this novel. Her ability to evoke exotic settings and celebrations, her descriptions of places I'll never see and places that don't exist anymore, and the cultures that inhabit-or-once inhabited them, is second to none, and no matter how much she wound up cheating us of an amiable hero and a plausible plot resolution, she did not cheat us on any of her scenery porn.

So I'm going to keep going in a while, but right now, I need a break from Niccolo and his tantrums. He can still and think a while about what he's done. I've got a summer of Wolfe to get on with.

*Who, for his part, is unknowingly raising a child born to his late wife, Katelina, that is not, in fact, his, but was sired by one Niccolo.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tatyana Toylstoya's THE SLYNX

It's not every day that I come across a novel that seems destined for the "among the strangest things I've ever read" category simultaneously as it also just never quite winds up feeling strange enough, somehow, but such is Tatyana Tolstoya*'s The Slynx, a post-apocalyptic and satirical fantasy that is couched very much in terms of a folk tale.

The setting is sort-of-rural Russia, some 200 years after a violent unknown event referred to by its survivors as, simply, "The Blast", which was pretty obviously a nuclear war that didn't quite destroy the world, but sure did change it, starting with the aforementioned survivors. Those in our little corner of what's left of the world who managed to live through The Blast and its immediate aftermath just kept on living unless murdered or killed by a freak accident or finally just sickened of it all enough to commit suicide. But get this: they don't really age, and, if they were of childbearing age at the time of The Blast, they could keep on having children, and did, and so repopulation happened at a good rate.

Only about those children. Yes, about them. That's where mutation sets in. Everybody's got some kind of disfigurement, some visible, some not. And these children age, and die off, and basically enjoy the lifestyle and span of your average Russian serf, circa the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It could be almost idyllic, if your idea of an idyll is a return to pre-mechanized agriculture, ignorance, superstition, and boredom. Oh, and of a whole new sub-race of people who are human but alas, are also quadrupeds and are thus used in place of draft animals.** Draft animals that drink too much vodka and talk back to their owners and occasionally maybe try to stage a revolution...

Enter one Benedikt, son of an "Oldener" woman, who works as a copyist of old pre-Blast manuscripts. His calling is kind of noble and it lends him a certain weird distinction -- in order to copy one has to read -- but the 200 years between the last of these books' publication and his own time have wrought changes that make a lot of the knowledge he can gain thereby useless or nearly so, because it's all about context, and the context has changed. For instance, while books are precious in Benedikt's world, it's chiefly as testaments to the wonderful wit and wisdom of Dear Leader, one Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe. He wrote them all, you see. All the novels, all the how-to books, all the chemistry text books. War and Peace, by Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe. A Manual of Applied Organic Chemstry, by Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe. The 1972 Sears Catalog, by Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe.

And yes, he is a despot, ruling from afar with the help of the dreaded Saniturions, secret/thought police in the guise of public health officials, who punish freethinkers by treating them as vectors of disease. Straight out of the movie Brazil, these guys. All that's missing are the weird baby masks.

But so, the plot of The Slynx (the Slynx being an imaginary monster that attacks and tears apart lone villagers in the night, and pretty much serving as a metaphor for all the woes of this world, especially ignorance and oblivion, because this book is all about what happens when a culture's memory is obliterated and everyone is just trying to make sense of it all from random pieces) is pretty much that of Snowpiercer. Benedikt is very like Curtis, if Curtis was more of a lovable doofus who marries above his station than a guilt-ridden antihero who kills his way to the front of the train, who advances uncomprehendingly through the several strata of a very confined society and learns that its very top/front isn't all that different from the rear/bottom and that it's all pretty much just a sad little cemetery of a society he's living in. But funny. Darkly and deeply funny.

You know, like life is. We're having a Blast. And maybe that's all that we deserve to be remembered for?

*Yes, she is from the same family as that War & Peace guy.

**Not a lot of animals survived The Blast. Mice are the primary food animal, and also serve as a kind of currency, for example. There are other, barely recognizable, creatures around, but most of them are not safe to eat.