Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: A Review

For the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge #16, a book with a question in the title, I chose to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I have long been wanting to read more classic science fiction and fantasy, and this book was the first that came to mind when I set about looking for books to read this year.

This book is the future, post-apocalyptic story of Richard Deckard, a bounty hunter who tracks down and “retires” rogue humanoid androids. Due to massive nuclear pollution following a world war, most humans have been mass emigrated to Mars. Many animal populations have died off entirely. Android technology is so advanced, they are nearly indistinguishable from humans. Therefore, elaborate psychological tests have been developed in order to identify them.

I found this book a little confusing, but interesting. It’s a short book, and maybe that is part of my difficulty with it. It has more of a short story feel than a novel. I think it could have benefited from a bit more world-building details.

Published in 1968, the imagined technology is fun to read about. By the year 2021, we have hover cars, vid-phones (that aren’t mobile), and androids so life-like they can’t easily be distinguished from the real thing. Aside from the androids, the technology in this book actually has a sort of archaic feel to it.

This was a fun book, and I enjoyed reading it.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood: A Review

A book that is also a musical or play is #13 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list. I already planned to read The Handmaid’s Tale, and decided to use it for this prompt. This was one of several books I was determined to read this year, so I fit it in wherever I could. This book has been adapted for stage, and more recently for television.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, is a speculative fiction tale about a dystopian future where an extreme theocracy has taken over the United States. In this repressive regime, women belong to one of three classes – Wives, Marthas and Handmaids. Wives are allotted to the Commanders in what appears to be a war heroes reward sort of system. Marthas are servants – housekeepers, cooks and the like. And Handmaids are those who’ve been deemed fertile, and are assigned to Commanders for the sole purpose of producing progeny for the Commanders and their Wives.

Told through the voice of Offred (Of-Fred), a Handmaid, this is a chilling picture of what humans are capable of doing to each other. Written as a recollection sometime after the events of the novel take place, the narrative is somewhat rambling. It shifts and wanders as memories often do. Certain colors and images stand out as Offred simultaneously recalls her life as a Handmaid and her life before. Here is one of my favorite images:

Then we had the irises, rising beautiful and cool on their tall stalks, like blown glass, like pastel water momentarily frozen in a splash, light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple, black cat’s ears in the sun, indigo shadow, and the bleeding hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they’d not long since been rooted out.

Margaret Atwood uses beautiful and often surprising language as she tells her story. I was captivated by this book, though not at first. In the beginning, the writing feels dull somehow. Not dull as in boring, but rather as if all the edges had been worn off. It felt blunted. But as I read on, I could feel everything being stripped away, much as it must have happened for Offred. And through this, I realized that the dullness was intentional. It builds the sense of fear and paranoia that is rampant in Offred’s reality.

I enjoyed this book and feel it is one worth reading. I have to say, however, I don’t really like the way it ends. The ending comes a bit abruptly, and I am left feeling vaguely unsettled with many questions unanswered. But then again, perhaps this too was intentional.

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler: A Review

When I set out to choose the books I would read for the 2018 Reading Challenge, I struggled to find just one book for some of the categories. I wanted to focus first on what I already had on my shelves but I also wanted to expand my reading experience. One category I particularly struggled with to choose just one book is a book by an author of a different ethnicity than myself.

So, although I’ve already filled this prompt with another book, there was no way I could not read Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler this year. I already had the book on my shelves, after all. Butler is on all the must read sci-fi author lists. This was my opportunity to finally make that happen.

Written in a sort of journal entry fashion, Lauren Olamina tells her story of survival in a future America ravaged by the effects of global warming, severe drought and government corruption. The world teeters on the edge of anarchy. More and more people are unemployed and uneducated. Clean drinking water is expensive and hard to come by. Police and firefighters only come when they’ll get paid for their services.

As unrest grows, it presses more and more into Lauren’s world, ultimately forcing her out of her home – one of the last, semi-safe walled communities outside Los Angeles. She flees north along with a handful of others seeking a better, safer way to live.

Butler’s writing is intelligent and powerful. This book is so deep and intense, so full of radical ideas, a single read through might not be enough. The story itself is so terrifyingly real, it’s easy to get caught up in the motion and miss some of the important ideas Butler is trying to convey. I know I found myself caught up in this book.

There are probably many quotable passages in this book, but one that stuck out for me was this one where Lauren is having a conversation with her friend and neighbor, Jo about what she would do if she found herself outside the walls of their neighborhood.

I realize I don’t know very much. None of us knows very much. But we can all learn more. Then we can teach one another. We can stop denying reality or hoping it will go away by magic.

Despite the difficult subject matter, I enjoyed this book immensely. I look forward to reading more by Octavia Butler, and quite likely re-reading this book at some point. I highly recommend this book.

Red Rising, by Pierce Brown: A Review

I am so glad I found this book and decided to add it to my 2017 Reading Challenge, #22 a book with a color in the title. Red Rising, by Pierce Brown, is the best book I’ve read in a long time. I read it as if ravenous, though in truth it was the book that devoured me. I don’t remember the last time I was so completely consumed by a book.

This is the story of Darrow, a member of the lowest caste of citizens tasked with the grunt work of terraforming Mars. Society is divided by colors with Red being the lowest, Gold the highest. After the death of his wife, Darrow is approached by group of rebels. He is set on the path of bringing down the corrupt system from the inside.

The book is written in first person perspective, so the reader only knows what Darrow knows, and experiences everything just as Darrow experiences it. Because of this, the reader is thrust alongside Darrow into this new and terrifying world.

It opens a little slow, but this is understandable, even necessary, as the setting is such a foreign one. Here is a world filled with strange technologies. Brown does a masterful job at grounding the reader into Darrow’s world.

I love the character of Darrow. He’s beautifully human. He’s emotional, flawed, and he makes mistakes. Huge ones. And because of the first person point of view, the reader is crushed by these mistakes even as Darrow is, and learns from them as well. This is what makes Darrow such a great character, and the first person perspective work so well for this book.

But Darrow isn’t the only great character. Brown has set up an entire supporting cast of wonderful characters. People with the entire range of human emotions. People who love and hate, who are ambitious and cunning, who are loyal and then betray.

This book has been compared to a number of other well known books. Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, for example. There are certainly similar elements. However, this book rises beyond all these comparisons. It stands alone as a great book all on its own merits.

Red Rising is book one of a series, and I’ve already eagerly moved on to book two, Golden Son. Brown has set up a great story with a fantastic premise and outstanding characters. I’m truly hoping the rest of the series holds up to the promise made in the first book.