Month: December 2022

Into the Thinnest of Air

Into The Thinnest of AirInto the Thinnest of Air by Simon R. Green is the fifth Ismael Jones story. It was published in 2017. Of the books in the series, I definitely think this is the weakest of the bunch. Honestly, this one is a a pretty lazy effort by an author that does not usually need to do a whole lot of work to create a mostly amusing wintertime story.

There is a lot that fails with this novel and it feels like it fails because of no effort. The entire book is 167 pages. The characters all convene at a remote inn/tavern that has a history peppered with murders, crimes, and smugglers. The characters arrive for a dinner they are invited to by the current owners of the place. There are only eight characters total, the inn is owned by a husband and wife. Way too much of the novel is spent saying the same things over and over and over and over again. Literally, it is painfully repetitive and pointless. The novel goes nowhere.  The characters just sit around the dining table being surly and miserable and saying unhelpful things about why the inn is such a rotten miserable storied location.

People start disappearing. For no reason, it seems, and in a locked-room sort of theme. The characters stupidly keep returning to sit around their table and saying stupid things at each other. At one point, one character, Valerie, decides she needs to lead a seance. It is pointless and stupid as all of the other events that transpire in this novel. Valerie was particularly annoying to me because her character did not seem to have any reason to be forceful with her opinions. My favorite character was Eileen. Honestly, when Eileen disappeared, I was ready to quit reading. She was the star of the show.

This is the first Ishmael Jones novel that did not directly involve the supernatural/unnatural. It also painted Ishmael poorly – he is smarter than he is in this novel. And one of the main draws for me to this series is the endlessly amusing banter with Penny; that was absent here, too. So, maybe this is just a turd of a book. Lazy effort.

1 star

The White Mountains

The White MountainsThe White Mountains by John Christopher (1922 – 2012) was first published in 1967 and is the first in the Tripods series written by Christopher. There are four small books in the series, which was written as juvenile fiction or young adult fiction.  My copy has 195 pages and they are fast-turning pages.

The story takes place in a sort of pseudo-post-apocalyptic timeline.  The reader is kept in the dark regarding the past history, just like the main character, Will Parker. Humanity is under the guardianship/control of the Tripods. In one sense they are distant masters because they do not seem to play an active role in the daily life of humans, but in another sense, via the “caps” that humans are forced to wear, they are in absolute direct contact with humanity. Based on Will Parker’s narrative, the reader learns that various artefacts remain from a previous time that show humanity has backslid from technological advances. Will’s father possesses a wristwatch that particularly fascinates Will.

Chance brings a falsely-capped man through Will’s town of Wherton. Wherton is basically a rural community that keeps itself fairly isolated. This falsely-capped man shares a number of insights with Will that leads Will to understand “capping” as no more than enslavement. Luckily, the man also tells Will about the White Mountains – a land far away in which men live free and independent without the control of the Tripods.  Will realizes that knowing what he knows (though, at this point, its just the belief in what the man has told him) he can no longer remain in Wherton.  Will’s adventure begins as he departs the only life he has ever known in search of the White Mountains.

Overall, this is quite an interesting novel. A variety of challenges and adventures for the characters to overcome. I enjoyed it and I think that if I had read it as a youth, I would have enjoyed it a great deal more. I particularly liked how the young characters in the novel were intrepid and resourceful.  They were not perfect and they made choices that might seem reckless or foolish under the light of a mature wisdom, but for teenagers, the choices seem legit. It is important to remember that these characters are teenagers – I think the main character can become infuriatingly annoying and toxic at times, but especially so when the reader forgets that Will is but a teenager from a rural community. So, sometimes he can seem impulsive, stubborn, and petty.

The most unsatisfying part of this novel is that Christopher shies away from giving the reader much information. There is a sparsity of information in the novel that is somewhat off-putting. It is perfectly fine to limit the perspective of the world to the perceptions of three young boys on an adventure, but at the same time, the novel lacks any answers or definitiveness that embeds the reader into the storyline or setting.  The ending is particularly weak; it is a bit of hand-waving vagueness and the reader just sort of accepts that things were manageable for the boys from that point on. Somehow. No details, of course. Just the understanding that their adventure had rather ended.

I will read the rest of the series eventually, they are very short books so this should not be an issue. I am glad I read this one, the writing is smooth and suits the story. I think a lot of readers today will be impatient with this sort of writing/novel.

4 stars

Things Fall Apart

China Achebe Things Fall Apart coverContinuing the shelf-clearing efforts, I came upon Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013).  It was first published in 1958.  I think a lot of people in this generation now read this in their school years.  I had never even heard of this novel until, maybe the 2010s. This particular novel can be read in many ways – with different purposes in mind.  The most important and obvious way would be as novel qua novel. Before it is anything else, this is a fiction novel of 209 pages that has a main character and a setting.  I am sure there are other ways of reading this book wherein the focus might be anti-colonialism, pro-tribalism, anthropological, human geographical, comparative religion, historical, or modernization.

I think most readers read this novel and probably feel upsettedness at either colonialization or westernization. As if this novel is a protest novel clamoring about injustice. I can see readers wanting this to be the case, but I do not draw that from this novel. In other words, I do not think this is a “blame” novel.  Readers should not, I think, be finishing it and then pointing at things and asserting its this or that’s fault. I do not think this is an apology for any specific culture.

Anyway, I really like the main character. Okonkwo is a fantastic character to write a story about.  Achebe manages to bring this character vibrantly to life through tight, spare vignettes that give us good highlight reels of Okonkwo’s personhood. There is a lot of commentary in the world about Okonkwo’s rôle in his clan, his relationship with his ancestors (particularly his father and his mother), and also his relationships with his wives and offspring.  Repeatedly, the term/concept “masculine” or “patriarchal” came up in reference to Okonkwo when I looked around the internet. I know its awfully subversive and non-conformist of me, but I think the application of those terms to the character tells us far more about those who apply it than the character himself. It is a projection of their psychological categorization that seems to be foisted upon a fictional character in a short novel. I mention this because I would caution the best readers to be wary of all of these assignations that seem to have been heaped upon Okonkwo. The super ironic thing about it is that is that if he were a real person he would not find this burden surprising, but he would definitely be angry about it happening.

As far as the novel plotline goes, Achebe does seem to write closer to what would be folk tales – or just community storytelling. This means that there is not some hugely convoluted and yet intricately strung-together plot akin to something George R. R. Martin would write.  The little moments we are shown about Okonkwo’s comings and goings, his meetings with friends, his interactions with his family, are not enough to round out an entire picture of the character. I say this because it seems like, well, I, too, can tell you stories of a person that only highlight one or two of their attributes and not tell you any stories that would paint them in a different light. So, and this is as novel qua novel reading, it can feel suspect – like the author is purposefully only presenting one dimension of a character. 

The end of the book, of the character, really surprised me. To this very moment I am still thinking about it – trying to decide if this is a legitimate scenario. I keep trying to reconcile events with the character and his personality. I keep flipping through scenes of context and so forth trying out different lighting, backgrounds, and soundscapes, if you will pardon this way of speaking. So, I do not know if I think the ending is in line with Okonkwo’s personality and history. Is this legit? or did the author just throw something sensational at his readers? And, there is a major feeling that it was all a sham. I mean, I have to share that as I read the event that ends the novel, I strongly felt that things happening off-screen, as it were, made it very much feel like something is being hidden. Some cover-up has occurred, maybe “for the sake of” the clan. Or “for the sake of” peace. Or any other “for the sake of” that people use…  So, maybe Achebe wrote this enigmatic ending and stayed silent about all the possible readings. Maybe it is as straightforward as the rest of the novel and there is no hidden nuance – it is exactly as it is presented. Yet, as a reader, I am still uncomfortable meeting Okonkwo, empathizing with him, admiring him, worrying about him, and then having to come upon this ending.

One of the things in the book that perplexed me were the guns. Okonkwo has one early on in the novel – he brandishes it at one of his wives. Yet, it feels like guns are somewhat common in the clan – Okonkwo is not the only one with one. And, of course, it leads to a major life upheaval for him for not being totally safe with it, let us say. However, where did the guns come from? 

I know a lot of the world believes that it is ideologies that cause the clashes of cultures and violence in humanity. Ideologies definitely participate in the cause. However, to my mind, the “thing” that is the ultimate cause and force is technology. Industry, science, technology… whatever you want to call it that provides the tools and weapons and machinery to the ideologies. The advancements in science and tools that allow all of the techne to be ever-stronger, ever-faster, ever-more-dominant. No, I do not support any anti-technological views or some sort of pseudo-Luddite counter-culture. Technology, and its effect on humans driven by their instinctual curiosity, is something like a gigantic voracious monster, gobbling ever-onward. The Leviathan, the Charybdis, the swallower and gobbler: unstoppable.

4 stars