In the future when humans have evolved to have much smaller brains and the ability to swim like penguins, a long-lasting ghost from the prior stage of human evolution tells us the tale of how it all went down. How overpopulation of the old-fashioned, big-brained humans, a very bad economy, and a series of unfortunate (fortunate?) events led to an odd group of humans being marooned in the Galapagos, surviving the worldwide fallout, and evolving into the smaller-brained, fish-eating, natural swimmers we have today.
I picked this up during a kindle sale for incredibly cheap purely for the author. I’d read three other Vonnegut works previously: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five (read before my book blog), and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (review). I enjoyed the first two and felt meh about the last, so I was fairly confident I’d enjoy another Vonnegut book. So when one night my partner and I decided we wanted to read a book together (out loud to each other), we looked on my kindle, both glommed on to the name Vonnegut, and chose this as our first read together. So my reading experience was a mix of listening and reading out loud myself, which I am grateful for, because I honestly think Galapagos sounds even more absurdist aloud.
There is an incredibly unique writing style to this particular scifi book. So much so that my boyfriend and I wound up researching to find out if, perhaps, Vonnegut wrote this toward the end of his life when he was perchance senile. (It was not, although it was published in the 80s, unlike my three prior Vonnegut reads, which were published in the 60s). Then we wondered if maybe Vonnegut had Asperger’s, although we didn’t bother checking up on that. Why these wonderings? Well, Galapagos is a very odd book. The premise isn’t that odd for scifi — a projected future evolution of humans and telling how we got there. But the ultimate future is kind of hilariously odd (penguin-like humans). Mostly, though, the way the tale is told is odd and unique in a way that took time to grow on me.
Beyond the whole odd scenario, there’s the fact that if a character will be dead by the end of the chapter, an asterisk appears next to their name. And the names appear a lot. Vonnegut is incredibly fond of naming everyone and everything by their full name every time they appear. He also loves lists. (This is the part that had us wondering about Asperger’s). At first this is grating on the nerves, but with time it comes to feel like the vibe of the world you’re visiting when you open the book.
Similar to the lists and constant naming, there are philosophical asides. Some of these are worked smoothly into the story thanks to a handheld computer device (similar to a smartphone) that pulls up relevant quotes to read to the survivors. Other times, though, they are truly random asides that go so far off the path of the story you’re left wandering around in a cave in the woods instead of on the nice paved road. But then everything comes right back around to the story, and you can’t really be upset about spending some time listening to an old ghost ramble. For example:
What made marriage so difficult back then was yet again that instigator of so many other sorts of heartbreak: the oversize brain. That cumbersome computer could hold so many contradictory opinions on so many different subjects all at once, and switch from one opinion or subject to another one so quickly, that a discussion between a husband and wife under stress could end up like a fight between blindfolded people wearing roller skates. (page 67)
Off-topic? Yes. Quirky? Absolutely. Interesting and fun nonetheless? Totally.
The plot, in spite of being deeply meandering, does develop and actually tell a story. We learn how overpopulation caused disaster and then how a few humans managed to survive on the Galapagos Islands and evolve into the futuristic penguin-like folk. Along the way we have some fun side-trips like an Argentinian military man appearing on a talk show and trying to explain that Argentina really does have submarines, it’s just that once they go underwater they never show up again.
Although I did ultimately appreciate the absurdity and the quirkiness, I must admit that I think it was perhaps a bit overdone. At the very beginning of the book when the list-making and other elements like that were much more prevalent, I was more annoyed and might have stopped reading the book if it wasn’t for the fact that my boyfriend and I wanted to finish the first book we started reading together. It took until about 60% of the way in for the list-making to ease off a bit and the style of the book to really start to work for me. I could easily see a reader being totally lost by some of the more annoying elements of the book, and I wonder what the effect would be if the order was reversed. If the quirks built throughout the book instead of starting that way. Or even if they were just dialed back a bit. I think just that tiny bit of editing would have made me love the book.
Overall, this is a fun piece of absurdist scifi that examines evolution from an over-the-top hypothetical situation. Potential readers should be aware that this book is even more absurdist than Slaughterhouse-Five, so you must be willing to do some more intense suspending of disbelief and be willing to do some meandering and read some lists. If absurdist fiction is something you enjoy and meandering and lists won’t bother you, then this humorous examination of overpopulation, end-of-the-world, and future evolution might be right up your alley.
4 out of 5 stars
Will Henry stats that this is a story that Dr. Warthrop did not want told…and proceeds to tell it anyway. When a British man shows up with a package being delivered under duress, Dr. Warthrop is ecstatic to realize it is the nest of the Magnificum–the holy grail of monstrumology. Dr. Warthrop decides to leave Will Henry in New York while he pursues this beast. But when his monstrumologist companion returns claiming that Warthrop is dead, Will Henry and two fellow monstrumologists travel to Europe to track him–or his body–down.
Not as engaging or thought-provoking as the first two books in the series, I can only hope that this third entry is suffering from the common penultimate book malady where the book which must set everything up for the finale of the series can sometimes drag.
There are two problems in this entry that make it fail to be as engaging or thrilling as the first two books. First, Will Henry is left behind in New York for a significant portion of the novel. We are thus left with a whiny teenager bemoaning Warthrop’s choice to be responsible for once and keep him out of danger. We also are left with very little action for far too large a portion of the book. The second issue is perhaps a bit of a spoiler but suffice to say that the monster is disappointing and its disappointment is easily predicted. If we had a lot of action with a disappointing monster, that’s still engaging. If we had less excitement with a surprising, phenomenal monster, that’s still thrilling. The combination of the two, though, prevents this thriller from being as thrilling and engaging as it should be.
Of course there are other elements that still worked, which is why I kept reading it. Yancey’s writing is, as ever, beautiful to read (or listen to) and contains much depth.
“So many times we express our fear as anger…, and now I think I wasn’t angry at all, but afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.”
The settings are unique, and the characters are strong and leap off of the pages. Will Henry becomes more fully fleshed-out in this entry as we start to see his descent into a love affair with monstrumology. We also get to see Warthrop at what he himself perceives of as his lowest point. It’s a dark bit of characterization but it works very well for the story Yancey is telling.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed, purely because the first two entries in the series were so phenomenal. The third book is still a very good book. Fans might be a bit disappointed, depending on how attached they are to the unique thriller aspect of the series, but the characters and writing still make this well worth the time. Fans will remain in eager anticipation of the final entry in the series.
4 out of 5 stars
Isaac Bodkins is a magical toymaker. He makes toys that actually come alive and seek out children who need them the most, such as children who have lost a parent or who are facing abuse. When he dies before he has a chance to tell his chosen heir about her purpose, evil has a chance to take over again. His toys, the Oddkins, must set out to tell her before evil manages to land its own new evil toymaker that would create living toys to torture children. Evil sends out his evil toys in an attempt to stop the Oddkins on their dangerous cross-town mission.
The person who loaned me this book told me it was marketed as a fable for all ages but really might be a bit too scary for the youngest among us. Person also knew that I love me some fables, not to mention talking animals or toys, so I was excited to get into this book. Alas, it wasn’t ultimately my style, but it is a well-written book I could see working for a lot of people.
The plot is a quest where each member of the questing group gets at least one chance to shine. Although I was fairly certain that good would ultimately triumph over evil, I still was left worried for the main characters periodically, and I also was unable to predict the details of the triumph. Since the toymaker lived in the countryside outside of the city, the quest consists of time in both the country and the city. This kept situations varied and engaging.
Since this is a fable and most of the characters are in fact magical toys, they are not what one would describe as three-dimensional. However, their two dimensions work for the story. For instance, the teddy bear leader of the good toys is brave and strong and true but he also has to work at being brave. He is not just naturally brave. Similarly, although the two potential inheritors of toymaking are good and evil, they both get background information given to them. The evil one was in prison and only takes pleasure from causing others pain. The good one ran a toy store and was recently widowed and looking for something more in her life.
So why didn’t I love it? Well, some things said were just too clearly religious for me. There’s a lot of talk of afterlife, and the evil toys are driven by who is clearly Satan. There are also times where the good toys stop and make statements to each other that are clearly the author preaching to the reader through them. For instance
God’s world is full of magic, isn’t it? Not just the secret kind of magic of which we’re a part, but the simple magic of everyday life-magic. (location 1358)
Given that this happens rather frequently and given that the evil is clearly represented to be Satan, I just found the whole book to be a bit too heavy-handed in the religion department for me. A reader who does follow Christianity might not be bothered, but even then, the preachiness within a book isn’t for everyone.
Overall this is a well-written fable that is engaging and unique. It is a bit heavy-handed in its presentation of various religious beliefs for this reader, but other readers who enjoy that in their literature will probably enjoy this book.
3 out of 5 stars
Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #2)
Will Henry, 12 year old orphan and assistant to renowned Monstrumologist, Pellinore Warthrop, is shocked to find a refined woman on Warthrop’s doorstep. She is the wife of Warthrop’s best friend who has now gone missing in rural Canada while looking for the elusive wendigo (aka werewolf). Warthrop insists that there is no such thing as a wendigo, but he agrees to go looking for his missing friend anyway, even if he believes his mission was ridiculous and an affront to monstrumology’s reputation.
I can’t believe it took me this long to get to the sequel of one of my rare 5 star reads, The Monstrumologist. I gave my dad a copy of The Monstrumologist for his birthday, and his enthusiasm for the series brought my own back to me, so I joined in with him to read through it. I had a bunch of credits stacked up on Audible, so I went with the audiobook versions. My speedy father reading in print quickly outpaced me, but that’s ok. I’m really enjoying the audiobooks, although I’m sure I will be reading the final book in the series in the fall when it comes out on my kindle. Can’t wait around for the audiobook! All of which is to say, my enthusiasm for the series remains high, if not steady, and the audiobooks are just as enjoyable as the print.
Yancey does something brave for a second book in the series. Instead of following the formula that worked so well in the first book and basically doing a monster-of-the-week-in-our-town method like Buffy and so many other urban fantasies, he changes things up. There is a monster, yes, but it is entirely different from the first one. This is a monster that might not even exist, unlike the anthropophagi in the first book who are almost immediately clearly real. Additionally, Warthrop and Will must travel away from New England to go looking for the trouble. It does not come to them. Another good plot twist is that the story does not entirely take place in Canada. It moves to New York City. Thus we get both the dangers of the wilderness and the dangers of the city in one book. These plot choices mean that what makes this series a series is the characters, not the fantastical nature of their world. By the end of the book I was thinking of the series in terms of the relationship between Will and Warthrop, not in the context of what nasty beast we might meet next. It thus does what great genre fiction should do. It looks at a real life issue and dresses it up with some genre fun. And the issues addressed here are big ones. What is love and what should we be willing to sacrifice for it? Is it more loving to stay with someone at all costs or to let them go to protect them? At what point do you give up on someone?
The horror certainly felt more grotesque this time around, although it’s possible I just wasn’t remembering the anthropophagi that well. This is a bloody book full of horrible things. Precisely what I expect out of my genre. There’s not much more to say about the horror than keep it up, Yancey. Also that this might not be for you if blood and guts and profanity are not your thing. But they *are* mine and, oh, how well they are done here.
Just as with the first book, the language Yancey uses is beautiful. It’s rich, eloquent, visual, and decadent. It’s a word-lover’s book. An example:
But love has more than one face. And the yellow eye is not the only eye. There can be no desolation without abundance. And the voice of the beast is not the only voice that rides upon the high wind….It is always there. Like the hunger that can’t be satisfied, though the tiniest sip is more satisfying than the most sumptuous of feasts.
The characterization here remains strong for Will and grows much stronger for Warthrop. Will grows and changes as a 12 year old in this time period in his particular situation would be expected to. With Warthrop, though, we get a much clearer backstory and motivations for his actions. In the first book we came to know Will. In this one we come to know Warthrop, although Will is not left without any development. It’s a good balance. I also enjoyed the addition of two female characters, who I thought were well-written, particularly Lily, the budding young feminist determined to be the world’s first female monstrumologist. She is truly three-dimensional in spite of her rather limited screen-time compared to Will.
The pacing doesn’t build steadily from beginning to end. It rather builds to a first climax, comes back down and builds again to a second climax. This makes sense, particularly in a werewolf book, but I must admit it felt a bit odd in the moment. It almost felt like reading two books in one until it all came together in the end. In fact, this is one of those books that gets better the more you look back on the story as a whole. Be prepared to enjoy it more in retrospect that in the first reading.
The audiobook narrator, Boyer, has a tough book to work with. There are a wide range of characters of multiple nationalities to act out (Canadian, German, French, New York, Massachusetts, etc…). Additionally, at least three different languages are spoken (English, French, and German). I’m not fluent in anything but English, but I did take German in university, and I can say that his German accent is at least passable. He also does an excellent job creating a unique voice for each character. I only rarely got lost, and that was generally due to rapid-fire conversation where each character only had a word or two. I must say, though, that he does mispronounce a few words, which detracts from Yancey’s gorgeous writing. I blame the audiobook director for this, though. S/he should have realized and corrected this. Overall, though, the mispronounced words are only in a couple of locations and do not deeply affect the reading of the book.
Overall this is an excellent follow-up to a remarkable first book in the series. It brings to the table that which made the first so powerful: YA horror with rich language set in a historic time period. But it also changes things up enough to avoid falling into the monster-of-the-week trap. The entries in the series are part of a larger story, and that can be seen. Fans of the first book should pick up the second book asap.
5 out of 5 stars
Amy is 5 year old robot. An exact replica–iteration–of her mother, who is in a relationship with a human male. Her parents are restricting her food to raise her slowly at a human child’s pace instead of at a robot’s. But when her grandmother shows up to her kindergarten graduation and threatens her mother, things go haywire. It quickly becomes apparent that the failsafe that makes robots love humans innately and makes them incapable of withstanding seeing violence against humans has failed to activate in Amy. She finds herself full-grown and on the run from humans and her robot aunts alike as she struggles to figure out who she is and what her existence means to humanity.
Artificial Intelligence/Robot books tend to take a bit more to draw me in than say a zombie book. It’s really hard to do AI in a way that is simultaneously scientifically/culturally believable and unique. Frankly, I need a bit more believability in an AI book than in a zombie one, since AI is real science. Plus, the book should examine their cultural place in the world, and that needs to be believable. I am pleased to say that this book gets it mostly right. It’s enjoyable, scientifically minded, culturally thought-provoking, and examines a real life issue in the context of genre, which long-time readers of this blog know is something I highly enjoy.
The first thing that made me know this is a smart book is the source of the robots (called Von Neumanns after their creator). A fundamentalist group in the American South decided that the humans left behind after Jesus’ Second Coming should have someone to help them through the Tribulation, so they invented humanoid robots to be ready to help. Clearly, the Second Coming didn’t happen, and the fundamentalists ended up selling Von Neumanns, and the Von Neumanns wind up a part of the cultural backdrop, not to mention the porn industry. As a character says to Amy:
There are only two industries in this world that ever make any kind of progress: porn, and the military. And when they hop in bed together with crazy fundamentalists, we get things like you. (location 1944)
This is the most unique and engaging origin story for robots that I’ve seen, plus it makes sense and provides cultural commentary. The Von Neumanns originated as a religious experiment, were swiped by the military and the porn industry, and became a part of everyday life. It’s just an awesome origin story for the world that Amy is in.
The characters, including the robots, are three-dimensional. Everyone has complex motivations and the main characters definitely grow and progress with time. No one is presented as pure evil or good.
The plot is similarly complex. There’s a lot going on in Amy’s world, and none of it is predictable. What is the failsafe precisely and is it a good or a bad thing? Is it a natural progression that it doesn’t work in Amy? What about how Amy’s mother and grandmother reacted to the human world around them? Did they see accurate shortcomings or were they just malfunctioning? And what about how the various humans use the Von Neumann’s? For instance, pedophiles acquire Von Neumanns and keep them young by starving them. Is this a good, harmless thing since it protects human children or have robots evolved to be far more than just a machine? The world is complex and full of tough questions, and thus is challenging and unpredictable, making for an engaging read.
What I most enjoyed though was how the whole book presents the question of nature versus nurture in a genre setting. Are we our parents with no hope of improvement or escape? Or do we have more say in the matter than just our genetics or “programming”? Amy has a psychopathic grandmother and a mother who has made questionable choices. Does this mean that Amy is evil or malfunctioning or even capable of being something different from the rest of her family? All of these questions lead to some interesting stand-offs, one of which includes my favorite quote of the book:
An iteration isn’t a copy, Mother. It’s just the latest version. I’m your upgrade. That’s why I did what I did. Because I’m just better than you. (location 2581)
All that said, there were two things that kept this back from five stars for me. First, some of the writing style choices Ashby uses drew me out of the story a bit. They are periodically highly artistic in a way that didn’t jibe with the story for me. I get why she made those choices, but as a reader they aren’t ones that generally work for me. Second, one thing that really drew me out of the story is the fact that the robot’s boobs don’t move. This is mentioned at one point as being a way to tell if a woman is robot or not. This drew me out of the world very hard while I laughed uproariously. I’m sorry, but machines designed by men would simply not have hard plastic boobs. Their boobs would bounce, dammit. This would at least be in the top 10 list of robot requirements. It simply wasn’t a realistic design choice, and it pulled me out of the story to such an extent that it lost the believability for a bit for me.
Overall, this is a creatively written and complex scifi artificial intelligence story that examines not just what makes us human but also individuality and uniqueness separate from parents and family. Some of the more artistic writing choices and high levels of violence might not appeal to all audiences, but if you’re an AI or scifi lover with an interest in nature versus nurture and stories featuring strong female leads, you should definitely give this a go.
4 out of 5 stars
Em Johnson, manager of the Tiki Goddess Bar on Kauai, never intended to get involved in one murder investigation, let alone two. But when the hunky fire dancing detective Roland Sharpe asks for her help looking into some suspicious deaths in a high-profile, competitive halau (hula group), she just can’t say no. Before she knows it, she’s entering the geriatric Hula Maidens halau into the biggest hula competition on the island to help her get in where she can snoop.
I’ve dipped my toe in a few cozy series, but this is the first one that’s managed to call me back for a second helping. They’re all entertaining in their own way, but this series is also unique and engaging enough to keep me coming back for more, and thankfully those unique elements stayed strong in the second entry.
Em is a good cozy mystery heroine. She’s smart and willing to help but isn’t running amok destroying the police department’s days. She only helps when asked and even then, she’s a bit reluctant to disrupt her life. On the other hand, when she does help, she’s good at it. She lends insight that it makes sense only she would have, such as being able to infiltrate the halau competition. This lets both her and the inevitably hunky police detective she’s helping seem smart and efficient. She also has that every woman quality that lets the reader insert herself into the story.
The setting is perfect escapism. A Hawaiian seaside tiki bar that feels like Hawaii’s answer to Cheers. If Cheers had a set of geriatric hula dancers who started “rehearsing” aka drinking before noon. Not to mention an aging hippie who thinks he’s engaged to a dolphin. The setting represents both the beauty of Hawaii and the diversity of Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture. I certainly learned a few words of Hawaiian along the way in addition to thinking fondly of how nice it would be to live in a place with such tropical beauty.
The plot was multifaceted and engaging. Every character really has their own life and they manage to intertwine just the right amount. The murders (and attempted murders) happened at the right frequency and managed to be a surprise at least part of the time. The murder weapons are creative and well-thought-out. The plot is not predictable but it’s also not entirely off the wall. I felt surprised but also to a certain level knew that I could have figured it out if I’d thought a bit more. That’s the perfect amount of mystery in my book.
This would have been five stars, but there is one part of the book that I thought was in very poor taste at best. This is not a plot spoiler, as it is not necessary to the mystery at all. At one point, Little Estelle (the eldest of the Hula Maidens), climbs into a man’s car and basically throws herself at him. If the genders were reversed, this would definitely be read as a creepy old man assaulting a pleasant young woman. But since it’s an old woman it’s written for laughs. I get it that Little Estelle is presented as a horny, senile old woman, but there’s a way to write that that doesn’t verge into sexual assault territory. I just don’t find that sort of thing funny, and even though I get it that the intention was oh that silly old woman, it didn’t sit well to me. If this was my first Landis book, I probably would have stopped reading. I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, because the rest of the book is 1,000 times more humorous and creative than those few pages. But I am disappointed that Landis chose to write Little Estelle that way. Others might find it more humorous than I did. I just don’t see such things as a laughing matter.
Most cozy books come with an arts and crafts do at home type project. This series includes drink recipes. I’m pleased to say that this book has even more drink recipes at the end than the first one, although I have yet to try mixing any myself. They are creative and fun-looking, though, and let the reader feel a bit like the Tiki Goddess could really exist.
Overall, this is an engaging, humorous cozy mystery. Readers of the first book will enjoy their return to the world of the Tiki Goddess. I am anticipating the next entry in the series, although I do hope that Landis will improve the characterization of Little Estelle.
4 out of 5 stars