What I’m reading this Weekend

This is going to be a quiet weekend for once. In the last three weeks, I cheered for my younger niece to do well at Destination Imagination Global finals, then went to my older niece’s dance recital, and then last weekend the younger niece got her black belt (juvenile version). Being a spinster aunt can be busy!

My audiobook for walks and knitting: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, with a full cast. This is a weird one, in that the production is well done, the idea is interesting, but for some reason it isn’t entirely working for me. I’m about 1/3 through.

My paper book for the bath: Stony Man 104: Extinction Crisis by Douglas P Wojtowicz. The Stony Man/Executioner universe is my go-to for a bath book when I don’t have anything else. This one involves an enemy using robots to sabotage nuclear plants in Isreal, Egypt, France and the US for as yet unknown reasons.

Current ebook: The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter. This is a sequel to War of the Worlds, including some of the characters from the original. After an alternate version of WWI that came after the first Martian War (Germany ended up taking over because no one was interested in fighting them, really), the Martians come again, and they’ve learned from the last time. I got this one from NetGalley, since it won’t be out until late August. I’m about 1/3 through, and enjoying it greatly.

On the horizon: I’ve got two more books from NetGalley: Walking on Lava from the Dark Mountain Project (releasing in July), and Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (releasing in September).

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Mythical and not so mythical Lost Cities

34314633Lost cities are a popular myth throughout the world. Shangri-La and El Dorado are two well known ones. The idea of a place unknown, and hidden civilisations is tempting, and usually reflect what the people telling the story want most. Shangri-La is a land of peace in the middle of war. El Dorado is a source of endless supplies of gold.

A few years ago, I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z, which was recently turned into a movie. This was more typical of the ‘searching for a lost city’ stories, in that it was set in 1925, where an intrepid British explorer, Percy Fawcett, disappeared into the jungles of the Amazon, along with his son and another companion, and none were ever heard from again, despite follow-up expeditions trying to find them.

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston, however, is set in the last decade. Instead of striking out into the jungle based on legends, they used Lidar, a plane mounted laser system, to search for the lost city of Ciudad Blanca through technological methods, and when not one, but *two* unknown sets of ruins were found, an expedition was sent in by helicopter to find out just what the Lidar had seen.

Based on that, you might think that the excitement wouldn’t be there, but you would be wrong. All of the excitement of discovery is there.

The book covers a lot of territory, beyond just the expedition. We get the history of the various searches for Ciudad Blanca (aka the lost city) through the last century in the Mosquitia Coast of Honduras (a very unsafe area). Then we get the Lidar expedition that found the evidence of the city. There’s Honduran politics, the ground expedition, colonial history, academic controversy, and medical fallout from the expedition.

Preston’s return to the site at the very end of the book made me a little melancholy, and it was clear that it was the same for him. The valley where the ruins were found is no longer the same pristine condition as when they first went in, and it’s kind of a shame, even though it wouldn’t have stayed that way much longer.

I did wonder if Lidar would be able to find the Lost City of Z that Fawcett disappeared while hunting for, though.

Jonestown on water

32197111Dystopic fiction has been a trend in YA fictions, since well before The Hunger Games. For example, when I was younger I read a lot John Christopher, including the Tripod series (post-alien invasion) and The Sword of the Spirits trilogy (post-ecological disaster), or John Whyndham’s The Chrysalids (set in Canada with fundamentalists targeting mutations) and The Day of the Triffids (alien plants wiping out the world).

No, Dystopias and post-apocalyptic worlds have been very popular through the years. The current trend had been on a bit of a down-swing, but we’ll see if the current state of the world makes it swing back up again.

The Ship is a British book (they do like their dystopias), set after economic/ecological collapse. Lalla’s father helped set up the dystopia (without an identity card and ‘screen’, you really don’t have a hope), but in secret he is setting up an escape for a carefully selected 500. Some are selected for the knowledge, and others because he approves of their actions (although sometimes the actions weren’t what he assumed them to be). Finally, he takes his wife and daughter to a waiting ship that he has loaded with those select, and enough supplies to last them for decades, although his wife is shot in the trip, and dies soon after they reach the ship.

The book focuses on the daughter, Lalla, who has her doubts. She bounces between sensible (supplies don’t last forever, and what about when things start to break down?) and teenaged naivetie (she wants to take the ship’s supplies back to London to help the people there… for a week at the most). She is obsessed with fruit that can’t be grown anymore in poisoned soil. When her mother was dying, she turned off the pain drugs because she was certain her mother would want to know she was there, and her mother dies in agony as a result.

To be honest, I really had trouble identifying with Lalla who has managed to get through the collapse, including actually seeing people killed, and yet is so naive that she thinks a ship’s supplies could save everyone in London.

I was more interested in the other passengers, and even her father. Not the love interest, though, who barely go any development. It was more the mother who refused to simply declare Lalla’s father, Michael, her son’s new father like everyone else on the ship, insisting on teaching him about his dead father. Or the woman in the laundry whose own daughter had turned away from her because of optimism (in a story much like Lalla’s the woman’s farm in Africa was sealed off from the suffering around it, but the daughter insisted on cutting down the wires to let in refugees, resulting in her father’s death at her own hands).

Over time, Michael started to remind me more and more of Jim Jones, and the ship as Jonestown, where the innevitable end will be death for everyone. The ship is going in circles in the ocean, with no plans to ever find land, but with no weapons, how would they fight off pirates.

The ending is appropriately ambiguous, but I figure it could be summed up as ‘Lalla starves in her rowboat, and eventually everyone else died, and nothing was saved’.

Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book.