Canada Reads Day One

Well, the first day of debates has gone out, and the first book out is the only one of the list that I haven’t at least started yet (although I still plan to read it).

One thing I did find mildly annoying, though, was the constant reference to The Right To Be Cold as ‘a book about climate change’ as if that was all the book was about. Sigh. It was about a lot more than that.

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Canada Reads 2017 Book 3

28363849Nostalgia was a book that I started out wondering just why it had been selected for Canada Reads 2017. The concept, at least at first, seems pretty basic. In the not-so-distant future (although there is a single reference to space colonies, so it’s a little further into the future than I initially thought), the rich, at least, have the option of rejuvenation. In theory, you could live forever. However, the human mind cannot go that long without problems. As a result, when a person undergoes rejuvenation, their memories are wiped and replaced by a new, fake life (referred to as fictions). But for some people, old memories start sneaking through; a condition called Leaked Memory Syndrome, but more commonly ‘Nostalgia’. Sounds harmless, but eventually it causes catastrophic failure, and potentially death.

The main character in the book is a doctor who treats patients for LMS. His latest patient has strange images popping up, but he doesn’t seem to want to be treated to remove these stray images. As well, a government agency is intensely interested in the man. Meanwhile, a reporter who travelled to the last remaining ‘third world’ area (probably Africa, although never fully identified), and was apparently killed there, only to turn up later as a member of a terrorist organization that takes a bus of tourists hostage. She comes across as very Patty Hearst.

For the first half of the book, everything seems pretty straightforward. Even the journal entries that the doctor writes, imagining what happened to the young reporter, with constantly evolving stories, don’t really seem all that deep.

But then things take a turn, and it really started me thinking. How well could these rewritten pasts work in the long term? After all, while the new person remembers a past, they don’t really have a family. They are all faked, so you can never meet them. It seems very isolating. And then there’s the resentment of the young. There are protests from G0s (never rejuvenated) who can’t find jobs and will never inherit money or homes. Then there’s the poor who could never afford the process. And what about religion when you don’t have to think about reincarnation or afterlives?

Combine those questions with the questionable behaviour of the first world towards the third world (seal them off, let them rot, but let tourists go ogle them), and the story started feeling more and more relevant as time went on.

By the end, I was seeing all sorts of parallels to contemporary life and the ‘real’ world. It became very intense, and while I never might have picked up the book on my own, I am glad that I read it.

My current rankings for Canada Reads:
1. The Right To Be Cold
2. Nostalgia
3. Fifteen Dogs

I’m now reading Company Town, and while tomorrow is the start of the debates, I plan to read the last two books, even though I’m not finishing them before finding out which book wins.

Librarians are always Bad-Ass

25814351The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is a great title for a book. Fiction or Non-Fiction, it’s great. When I first heard the title before it came out last year, I was intrigued. When I heard the summary, I was sold. It took a few months to hit the top of my to-read pile, but here we are.

Looking at reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, it seems a lot of people are complaining ‘I don’t want all this history, I want the bad-ass librarians!’ But the question is, can you understand how bad-ass they are if you don’t know the history?

This book covers four broad areas

1) Abdel Kader Haidara being seduced into the work of collecting the books of Mali that are hidden away (based mainly on the colonial era) into a central location where they can be properly conserved, studied and referenced. Considering the experience of people opening up trunks kept carefully locked, only to find that insects have made a meal of the precious hand-written manuscripts (yes, I know that phrase was redundant), it’s clear that it was a task well worth taking on.

2) The history of Mali and Timbuktu in particular to explain why the region is home to so many historically significant books.

3) The rise of Islamic Extremists in the region and how they seized control of much of Mali.

4) And finally, Haidara and other librarians recognizing the great danger to their treasures, going to great lengths to smuggle them out of the extremist-controlled areas, and the continuing danger from the environment as they wait for the right time to return the books to the many libraries of Timbuktu (things are still a little too fraught to do so yet, and the conditions the books are currently stored in are not kind to such fragile books).

I consumed this book as an audiobook, and I have to admit, the narrator did a fantastic job with names that must have been difficult to read out loud without stumbling. Instead, they rolled off his tongue completely naturally. It was a very pleasant way to spend my commute.

Mira Grant and Subterranean Press

Mira Grant caught me with her very first novel. Well, her first novel as Mira Grant, which is a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire, fantasy author. Mira Grant is what she writes horror as.

Her first novel here was Feed, the kickoff to her zombie world. Zombies and Presidential politics. An interesting combination. Her first book for Subterranean Press was a collection of stories set in the early days of this zombie uprising (later combined with more stories as a hardcover for Orbit books as Rise.

Since then, she’s gone a little more extreme in her stories for them.


23634011First comes Rolling in the Deep, about a documentary crew going looking for mermaids and finding a lot more than they expected. Needless to say, her mermaids are not pretty girls with fish tails. Everything quickly goes very wrong.

More recently, Orbit announced that they will be publishing Into the Drowning Deep this November. This will be the story of the expedition to figure out what happened to the first one.

 

 


32994321Now we have Final Girls, coming out in April.

The book starts out with a scene from a horror movie. Two young sisters are running for the border of a small town. It’s harvest festival, their parents have been killed, and if they can just make it there, they’ll be save from the supernatural horror hunting them.

This isn’t actually what the story is about. Instead, it’s about a scientist who has developed a combination of drugs and VR that can help treat behaviour problems. The two sisters are actually adults, and they’ve never been able to stand each other. But by going through this fake scenario, and a couple more later, they can develope the closeness they never had. Making the scenario so fake means that they will have the benefit of the experience without ever thinking that it was actually real events

Now a reporter has arrived to examine the process and write about it for a science magazine. She’s very sceptical, based on personal history. Her mother died when she was young, and her father died in prison for abusing a patient. After his death, it turned out that the testimony that condemned him was ‘recovered memories’ that were completely fake.

So, she and the scientist behind the therapy go under it together. Two preteens meeting and becoming best friends. And naturally, this is where everything goes wrong.

To be honest, I never really liked horror movies. They tend to be ridiculous, and so many just go for the gross-out, fake jump-scares. But Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) loves them. This book is pretty much a love-letter to those movies, and especially (I think) the eighties versions of them. And that love comes through on every page of this novella, pulling the reader along with them.


Both books do something I’ve never seen in my reading, and both are definitely worth trying to track down. Being from Subterranean Press, they are limited edition books, and the ebook versions weren’t available in Canada.

Canada Reads 2017 Book #2

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The Right to be Cold is the only non-fiction book on the Canada Reads list this year, and it deserves to be there. It covers a lot of ground in only 326 pages.

Level one is the memoir of the author’s life, starting as a child raised in the far north of Quebec, an area called Nunavik. She was raised by a single mother (her father was stationed in the north, but eventually left), and a single grandmother (who also had a relationship with a man who came north, then left). When she got older, she went south for school, losing touch with her native language. As she got older, she married, had children, got divorced, and got involved in politics. She started with local schools, eventually working her way up to the leadership of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

Level two is the history of how northern culture has changed, in large part because of the interference of the south. The massacre of sled dogs by authorities was one big way. She also discusses how that lead to alcoholism, abuse, and crimes that had rarely occured before that. She’s very passionate about preserving traditions, while also educating the young to be part of the global community without giving up their culture.

Finally, she looks at climate change (and the titular ‘right to be cold’) and how it has affected life in the north. She started with the fact that polution in the south was settling in the north, causing health problems. Then she started into fighting climate change by couching it as a human rights issue, since it is making it difficult for the Inuit to preserve their way of life.

Now, don’t think in terms of tree huggers. Since the Inuit are hunters, Ms Watt-Cloutier has little patience for well-meaning southerners who want to ban seal hunting and polar bear hunting and the like. These are essential to survival in the north. Instead, she is for sustainable hunting.

Ms Watt-Cloutier comes across as a very pragmatic person, and her words should be widely read.

After two reads in the Canada Reads 2017 contest, I rate the books as
1. The Right to be Cold
2. Fifteen Dogs

Canada Reads 2017 Book #1

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Fifteen Dogs is a book that I considered when it originally came out, but never got around to reading. I did hear a number of interviews with the author, and it was on the ‘someday’ list The fact that it is part of this year’s Canada Read’s contest finally got me to pick it up. I just finished reading it, and I am really not sure how I feel about it.

The book starts with the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo in a bar, which affects the people around them in interesting ways that really does fit in with the pettiness that Greek mythology portrays them with. They get into a bet about whether another species would be happy with human level intelligence. They head out and end up at a vetinary clinic, and they give the fifteen dogs inside intelligence. The parameter they set for the bet is whether or not one of those dogs would die happy (although there are a lot of arguments later about what is ‘happiness’ and at what point of dying that they should look at).

Note the part about ‘die’. In the end, every single dog dies. Some die within a day or two, others live for years. Some die violently and in other unpleasant ways. If you didn’t like A Dog’s Purpose, where a dog is reincarnated over and over again, you really should avoid this book.

Much like humans, some of the dogs are good, and some are bad. One is a poet, one is a philosopher, one is pretty weasely, and one resorts to murder, although his reasons become more understandable as the book goes on. On the other hand, they react as *dogs*, not humans in dog bodies. They were given human *level* intelligence, not *human* intelligence, and some of them are pretty conflicted about that, wanting to go back to what they were.

As well, the gods interfere in various ways, wanting to influence the outcome of the bet, the way the gods do (remember the story of the Trojan War?). Zeus, in particular, takes an interest, although initially he is very annoyed about the bet, and sets limits on what others are allowed to do in the way of interference.

In the end, I’m not sure I enjoyed the book, but it definitely affected me. I was impressed in how alien the minds of the dogs could be. The last couple of chapters did make me cry (which is a pain, since I am an ugly crier, and it leaves me with painful sinuses and a headache). I’m not sure I would vote for it to win Canada Reads, but it definitely deserves the consideration.

Next stop, The Right to be Cold, which I am nearly two thirds of the way through.