Month: October 2015

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Posted October 29, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Science Fiction / 0 Comments

The Windup Girl by Paolo BacigalupiTitle: The Windup Girl (Goodreads)
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Published: Orbit, 2009
Pages: 508
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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The Windup Girl is a debut novel for Paolo Bacigalupi, an author that seems to take present day issues and explore them in a science fiction setting. The Windup Girl is set in 23rd-century Thailand, and explores ideas around genetically modified ‘genehacked’ foods. Anderson Lake works for AgriGen’s Calorie, one of the three mega-corporations that control the biotechnology field, and controlling food production. Emiko is a Windup Girl, a beautiful creature, not human but rather a genetically engineered being.

The Windup Girl is a very difficult novel to summarise, but I do not really care about the plot; I picked this up for the themes. I knew this was going to be a biopunk novel that explores ideas of genetically modified food and bioterrorism but I was surprised with everything this book covers. With a food shortage, ‘calories become currency’, giving corporations with bio-engineering backgrounds the tools for larger profits and control. However, what happens when corporations have too much control?

I am sure people will dislike this book for being overly complex or dense, but I really think you need to ignore the plot at times and focus on the actual message. Paolo Bacigalupi has a lot of interesting ideas, genetically modified product is a slippery slope but food shortages will also become a problem. How do we find a balance? This bleak world really captures corporations in an interesting light, exploring the shocking tactics used for better profits, and the lack of compassion they have towards the people (or windups).

This debut novel, really catapulted Paolo Bacigalupi career; winning the Nebula Award for Best Novel, Locus Award for Best First Novel and sharing the Hugo Award for Best Novel with China Miéville’s brilliant novel The City & the City. Recently Bacigalupi released his sixth novel, The Water Knife that explores water shortages; a book I need to read as well. I like when science fiction novels explore interesting issues, this is why I prefer Soviet sci-fi or novels from the 1960s, but I think Bacigalupi is an author I will need to pay more attention to in the future.


The Lucifer Effect by Philip G. Zimbardo

Posted October 28, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 3 Comments

The Lucifer Effect by Philip G. ZimbardoTitle: The Lucifer Effect (Goodreads)
Author: Philip G. Zimbardo
Narrator: Kevin Foley
Published: Random House, 2008
Pages: 571
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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Ever since reading Frankenstein, I have been interested in the concept of evil. How can perfectly ordinary people become perpetrators of such horrible things? What turns a good person evil? These are the fundamental questions that Dr Philip Zimbardo attempts to answer in the book The Lucifer Effect. In 1971 Zimbardo conducted an experiment at Stanford University funded by the U.S. Navy into the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners. This experiment is known as the Stanford prison experiment and is wildly studied and found in most psychology textbooks.

Then in 2003, news broke about human rights violations that were happening in Abu Ghraib, including torture and abuse to the prisoners by the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency. Philip Zimbardo appeared as a psychological expert during the legal proceedings conducted by the US Supreme Court. This lead to the writing and publication of The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. With a growing interest in psychology, when this book was recommended to me by a BookTuber (along with others) I knew I had to read this first.

I have already done a blog post on this book, regarding the concept of enclothed cognition. There is a lot of interesting things to learn about psychology within the book. However this was written to help people safeguard themselves; if we can understand just how easy it is to be manipulated and corrupted, we are more likely to notice when it is happening. For me, I felt most manipulated by the American government (this is also a problem with the Australian government as well) with the way they spin things, that lead to the treatment of prisoners. If you look at the trials that came out of the Abu Ghraib incident, many people were punished but people like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney or even George W. Bush never stood trial for their actions. The fact that Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay are classified as Detention Centres so they do not have to abide by the Geneva Conventions is horrifying and makes me suspect of how my country treats detainees.

The Lucifer Effect is a very interesting book, I feel like I have gotten a lot out of it, although it will need to be re-read in the future. Philip Zimbardo has put a lot of information into the book, but I do wish that there was more information on some of the theories mentioned. I am fascinated by psychology theories and want to learn more on the topics. I have a list of non-fiction books to get through, that might help me develop a better understanding. I recommend The Lucifer Effect to everyone, it is horrifying to read how people treat others, but it is important to understand the situations and work towards building a better solution.


October 2015 Mini Reviews

Posted October 27, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary, Crime, Literary Fiction, Thriller / 2 Comments

October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: World Gone By (Goodreads)
Author: Dennis Lehane
Series: Coughlin #3
Published: William Morrow, 2015
Pages: 416
My Copy: Library Book

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Ten years after the events from Living by Night by Dennis Lehane, World Gone By, tells the story of Joe Coughlin in a changing world. Prohibition is now dead, the world is at war again and Joe’s enemies have destroyed his empire and killed his wife. The novel is set in both in Cuba and Ybor City, Florida and World Gone By explores the implications of Joe Coughlin’s past. A novel of crime, revenge and the moral complexity of a criminal past while being a good example for his son.

I am somewhat discontent with the state of popular crime fiction and find myself longing to be surprised. Normally I am a fan of crime novels and like to explore the psychological or gritty nature of the plot. World Gone By seems to offer something different, I did not connect with Living By Night, but the synopsis of its sequel was enough to raise my interest. Sadly, this was unable to deliver, and I felt disconnected to the plot due to the fact that it was overly cliché. I wanted to enjoy this book; the time era and the premise are two elements I love in fiction and I had heard such good things. I need to stop listening to hype, or maybe I should give up on crime fiction all together.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Mislaid (Goodreads)
Author: Nell Zink
Published: Fourth Estate, 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Set in 1966, at the campus of Stillwater College, Mislaid tells the story of Peggy. A freshman with literary aspirations, Peggy finds herself falling for Lee, a poet and one of her professors. Peggy falls pregnant and the two end up married. The only problem is, Peggy identifies herself as a lesbian and Lee as gay. This turns into some wry joke; they are an odd couple that has been mislaid.

Nell Zink takes it upon herself to explore the complex issue of sexuality with a mismatched pair stuck in a marriage that neither are interested in. The problem with Mislaid, is that this is such a complex issue and Zink was unable to handle the novel in a way it deserves. From the first chapter when the term ‘Mecca for lesbians’ was used, I felt uneasy about the way the GSM (Gender and/or Sexual Minorities) community was being treated. Then the wit found in Mislaid did not work for the majority of the novel. I was less than impressed with this book; it could have been a great story but nothing seemed to come together the way I expected.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico (Goodreads)
Author: Javier Marías
Translator: Esther Allen
Published: New Directions, 1996
Pages: 57
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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I do not know how I found this little gem, I would like to know who recommended it so I could personally thank them. Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico is a short novella that tells the story of Ruibérriz de Torres who is brought in to translate for Elvis Presley who is in Mexico to film Fun in Acapulco. While in town, Elvis and his entourage, find themselves in a seedy bar where they get into a little trouble with a local kingpin.

Javier Marías has managed to create a punchy story that explores a complex life of a translator, on one hand he has a big famous singer/actor that the world idolises and adores but his entourage has got him into trouble with a crime lord that is feared in Acapulco. Ruibérriz de Torres is stuck in the middle unsure if he should be translating the words that could get everyone into a fight. Should he censor the words for either Elvis or the kingpin just to keep the peace? This novella explores the idea of translations and the second hand nature of words, in a very meta way since this novella was translated from the Spanish into English by Esther Allen. This is only fifty pages long, but manages to explore a complex issue in a very interesting way; I have not been able to stop thinking about the ideas found in Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Leaving Berlin (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Kanon
Translator: Esther Allen
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Pages: 384
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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Almost four years after World War II, Berlin is a mess, divided in two. The east is occupied but the political ideas from the Soviet Union and the Allies are trying to control the west. This power struggle will later divide Germany into two with the erecting of the Berlin wall in 1961. Alex Meier is a young Jewish writer who managed to flee Nazi Germany to find a home in America. Only he found himself in the crosshairs of Joseph McCarthy during his “Red Scare” witch hunts. Alex and his family are now facing deportation; that was until he was given an alternative by the CIA but is this a solution at all?

The setting for Leaving Berlin is fascinating, the rebuilding and restoration of Germany is interesting enough as it is, but then you have the political struggle and influences of America and the Soviet Union as well. The American propaganda towards communism plays a big part in this espionage novel, and reading a book about a country being torn apart by the Cold War was really interesting. I am very interested in the history behind the Cold War, especially when it comes to the way the media was used to manipulate and of course I am interesting in the Soviet Union. As far as this novel goes, it was entertaining and I enjoyed reading it, however the setting and political history interested me more than the plot. I would have enjoyed a non-fiction novel of post-war Berlin more than Leaving Berlin, but that does not mean I regretted reading it.


The Story of My Purity by Francesco Pacifico

Posted October 10, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary / 0 Comments

The Story of My Purity by Francesco PacificoTitle: The Story of My Purity (Goodreads)
Author: Francesco Pacifico
Translator: Stephen Twilley
Published: Hamish Hamilton, 2010
Pages: 293
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Thirty year old Piero Rosini wants to live a life of purity, wholly dedicated to God with a dream of become a modern day saint. Living in a sexless marriage, Piero spends his days working in a conservative Catholic publishing house. Although this publishing house was not conservative enough; they plan to publish a book that makes the claim that Pope John Paul II was secretly Jewish. He plans to leave and start an ultraconservative publishing house, where he can have more control over the content being released. The Story of My Purity is a novel that explores religion in relationship to faith, freedom and purity.

Living life with the idea of becoming a modern day saint, trying to do everything right and be perfect really sets up the satirical nature of this novel. Saint Augustine of Hippo’s autobiographical book Confessions comes to mind when I think about the difference between Saints and people who try to live a sinless life. I found that this novel really dealt with the idea of spirituality and religion in an interesting way. There is an exploration with the idea of freedom and faith when it comes to organised religion (in this case the Catholic Church).

A little understanding of theology really helps understand The Story of My Purity and the humour behind it. Firstly, when it comes to the seven deadly sins; it is alright to feel envy, greed and so on. The Church’s teaching on the seven deadly sins, is that these are gateways that can lead to trouble, so we should be aware of these feelings and learn to understand them. Although, there have been a lot of misconceptions around the deadly sins, that have led to the concept of Catholic guilt.

For Piero Rosini, he never learned to manage his lust, he went to a priest for help and was told not to think about women. Piero really took this advice on board to the point that he was unable to get an erection to consummate his one marriage. His sexless marriage was a result of him constantly trying to not think about sex, or feel a sexual attraction to his own wife. Although it proves impossible to not have sexual thoughts, and Piero’s life of purity began to unravel with the help of an attraction to his sister-in-law and spam emails.

The satirical nature of this novel comes from the fact people do not understand what the Church says about sex. Pope John Paul II did 129 lectures on the Theology of the Body, going through the Churches views on sex and sexuality. These lectures are about understanding your body, your desires and attraction. The theology should never feel restrictive by religion, rather we should be free and it should correct people’s misassumptions on the Churches teaching. Although the author may not have written this as a satire and this was actually his thoughts on Catholicism.

Unfortunately The Story of My Purity was not a great book, I loved viewing the book as a satire and exploring the theology behind it. However it did take a direction that I did not enjoy and ended up falling on its face. I am fascinated by theology and I feel like this could have been a great novel. The predictability of the book was just too much of a stumbling block for me. I am curious on Francesco Pacifico thoughts on Catholicism; I viewed the book as satire and would hate to think of it as anything else. I have also done a video review on this novel, if you are curious; although I think I talk about all the same ideas.


By Night In Chile by Roberto Bolaño

Posted October 7, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Literary Fiction / 6 Comments

By Night In Chile by Roberto BolañoTitle: By Night In Chile (Goodreads)
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Chris Andrews
Published: Vintage, 2000
Pages: 130
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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In a feverish daze, Jesuit priest Father Urrutia, spends his last night on earth reflecting on his life. By Night in Chile, is a bedside confession, reflecting on not just his involvement with the Opus Dei and Augusto Pinochet. This novella by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, was written as a single paragraph, in which Father Urrutia recaps his entire life in one long monologue.

Roberto Bolaño is one of those authors that I have wanted to read for a very long time. In particular I was interested in reading his two tomes 2666 and The Savage Detectives. The novella opens with the line “I am dying now, but I still have many things to say” and then goes into a rant about the protagonist’s life. A Jesuit priest, poet and literary critic; Father Urrutia is unapologetic about his life; from his involvement with Opus Dei, teaching Augusto Pinochet and even his sexuality.

While this can be viewed as an unremorseful reflection on his life, his memories go from bad to worse as the novella progresses. I spent most of the time reflecting on whether Urrutia’s fever was making him a reliable or unreliable narrator. As Roberto Bolaño is a post-modernist, I think the idea of By Night in Chile is to question the reliability of memories. On one hand if the fever is making the narrator more honest than he should, this novella gives you one idea of the importance of reflection on life. However if the fever was causing hallucinations and making the narrator unreliable, the themes change but still asks some similar questions.

I read this novella in one sitting; I found it a quick reading experience. Reflecting on the book is what was the most time consuming. Roberto Bolaño is an excellent writer and By Night in Chile was worth checking out. Chris Andrews translated the novella from Spanish, who also has a book of literary criticism called Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction. At 130 pages, By Night in Chile allowed me to experience Roberto Bolaño’s style before committing to 2666 or The Savage Detectives, which I think I will push up my own TBR.


In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami

Posted October 4, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Horror / 2 Comments

In the Miso Soup by Ryū MurakamiTitle: In the Miso Soup (Goodreads)
Author: Ryū Murakami
Translator: Ralph McCarthy
Published: Kodansha International, 1997
Pages: 180
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Library Book

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Kenji is a tour guide of the night, normally taking Americans to the sex clubs within Tokyo. Frank, an overweight business man that appears to have only one thing on his mind wishes to take advantage of Kenji’s knowledge of the sex industry, hires him to guide him for three days. However Frank’s strange behaviour begins to make Kenji suspicious and he quickly suspects that his client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorising Tokyo. In the Miso Soup is a fast paced, philosophical piece of translated fiction by the Murakami that does not often get talked about, Ryū Murakami.

Translated by Ralph McCarthy, this Japanese novel is a short punchy novel that really explores culture clash in a really interesting way. The attitudes towards sex between the Japanese and Americans are what really stands out to me while reading In the Miso Soup. The whole novel plays around with the cultural differences in an interesting way, exploring attitudes, personalities and even philosophical views. I enjoyed Ryū Murakami’s approach to these themes within In the Miso Soup, I think it was a unique take on East meets West, and I do not think I have seen the approach before.

One thing I like about Japanese fiction is the writing style, it is almost like a slow burn but novels like this still manage to build tension. I have read a few Japanese novels that explore really dark themes in this way; Revenge by Yōko Ogawa comes to mind. Be aware when reading In the Miso Soup, Ryū Murakami does not hold back and it can get descriptive in its depictions of sex and violence.

I really enjoyed reading Ryū Murakami’s In the Miso Soup and am eager to read more of his novels; in particular Coin Locker Babies and Audition. I am fascinated by the philosophical and psychological look into the darker side of humanity that seems to be a common theme within Japanese literature. Other novelists I am interested in checking out include Natsuo Kirino, Banana Yoshimoto and Kenzaburō Ōe. This does not include the authors I have already read, like Haruki Murakami, Yōko Ogawa and now Ryū Murakami. In the Miso Soup is a short novel but it packs a huge punch, not for the faint hearted but well worth reading. I have also done a video review of this book, if you are interested in checking that out.


Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Posted October 2, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Gothic / 2 Comments

Interview with the Vampire by Anne RiceTitle: Interview with the Vampire (Goodreads)
Author: Anne Rice
Series: The Vampire Chronicles #1
Published: Sphere, 1976
Pages: 308
Genres: Gothic
My Copy: Paperback

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When people talk about Anne Rice, you can be sure that the first novel in the Vampire Chronicles, Interview with the Vampire, will be mentioned. Easily her most recognisable novel, this 1976 debut tells the story of three very different vampires. Focusing on the two hundred year old, Louis, the book tells how Lestat turned him as well as five-year-old Claudia, and his life as a vampire as he conveys it to a reporter. This breakout novel even spawned the hit 1994 adaptation starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst.

I first read Interview with the Vampire when I first got into reading and really enjoyed it. In that review I gave it high praises, saying, “The whole story is almost philosophical in the way it tells the struggle of Louis and his moral conscience…[A] battle of good and evil is played out in a more evil orientated world… It doesn’t feel forced or predictable it just leaves you thinking how wonderfully complex these characters are.” Looking back on that review with a fresh re-read and five more years of reading experience, I have a very different opinion.

First of all, the vampire mythology is an interesting literary device to explore morality. Looking back on the mythology, all the way to classics like Dracula; novels continue to explore the morality of a powerful vampire sucking the life away from the innocent. What gives them the right to life over everyone else? There is a conflict between morality and the idea of survival. Within Interview with the Vampire it does this in two distinct ways; first you have Lestat who takes life without a care in the world, following the instincts of survival. While Louis is often questioning his survival and the moral implications, often hating what he has become.

The novel spans the life of Louis for the past two hundred years, though Interview with the Vampire is just over 300 pages. For me this becomes the biggest downfall of the book, and the character development, especially the psychological, suffers. There are a lot of interesting topics that this novel could have explored but we never get the opportunity to do so in great detail. Take for example, Claudia; she has many years to live and learn about life, and this could have made for a far greater story. The struggles Claudia went through would have been fascinating, especially the sexual development of a girl stuck in a five-year-olds body.

It is interesting to see how much a few years has changed my view on literature; I feel like I am developing some useful skills to analyse the books. I also feel like I am getting to the point where I am starting to feel like I am ‘well read’ (although there is a long way to go). Having experienced more with the vampire mythology and literature in general, I am enjoying going back to some of the books I read more than five years ago. Sometimes I do not enjoy the novel as much, like I did this time, but other times I find a new found respect for what an author was trying to do (see a future review of The Handmaid’s Tale). Interview with the Vampire could have been so much more, and now I just wish it was.