Tag: Black Mirror

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Posted February 12, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Lincoln in the Bardo by George SaundersTitle: Lincoln in the Bardo (Goodreads)
Author: George Saunders
Published: Bloomsbury, 2017
Pages: 343
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

George Saunders’ long awaited debut novel has been surrounded by hype, and winning the Man Booker prize only helped to launch this book. Saunders is probably best known for his short stories that often share a vibe similar to the television show Black Mirror. I even called his last collection Tenth of December “contemporary witty, with an element of darkness”. Even comparing it to two other great collections that were released about the same time, Black Vodka by Deborah Levy and Revenge by Yōko Ogawa. Lincoln in the Bardo tells the story of Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The Civil War has been raging for almost a year while the President’s eleven year old son lies in bed gravely ill. Despite the predictions of a full recovery, Willie dies and his body is laid to read in a Georgetown cemetery.

Blending historical data collected while researching this novel, George Saunders blends in a narrative of the afterlife and grief. While the title suggest that Willie Lincoln is in the bardo, the narrative seems to fit more with purgatory. In some schools of Buddhism, bardo is known as the state of existence between death and rebirth, while purgatory is a state of purification before heading to heaven. This distinction is interesting as the characters in this limbo often are unwilling to let go of their physical remains and complete their journey into the afterlife. These characters are often faced with deformities representative of their mortal failures. Saunders does consider himself a student of Nyingma Buddhism but my understanding of theology is primarily Christian, so I tend to interpret the writing with that thought in mind.

The other part of this novel is set around the President and his family as they grieve the loss of Willie. It is here we see a lot of the historical documentation come into play. This includes excerpts from newspapers and biographies. This serves to drive the narrative of grief but also highlights the inconsistencies found in history. What made this book so appealing was the confliction in Abraham Lincoln. While grieving the loss of his own son, he was still responsible for the loss of so many others because of the Civil War. While the American Civil war may have led to many good things, the effects of war were truly felt throughout Lincoln in the Bardo.

The novel is told through different speeches; a narrative that closely resembles a play. This is what makes the audiobook such an alluring option. The publisher put a lot of effort in producing, with a cast of 166 voice actors, including Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Rainn Wilson, Susan Sarandon and George Saunders. I was worried that between the narrative style and the large cast, this would be too much of a gimmick but I think Saunders and the audiobook production managed to never go overboard. However I can understand why this would not work for some readers.

The end result of Lincoln in the Bardo was a dark comedy, ghost story and while I was a little worried (because of all the hype) I am glad my book club made me read this novel. At the moment I prefer George Saunders’ short stories but I can only compare Lincoln in the Bardo with Tenth of December. It does make me curious to try CivilWarLand in Bad Decline or Pastoralia. I know in the future Saunders will continue to be surrounded by hype but I am still interested to see what is next for this author.

The Machine by James Smythe

Posted September 11, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Speculative Fiction / 6 Comments

The Machine by James SmytheTitle: The Machine (Goodreads)
Author: James Smythe
Published: Blue Door, 2013
Pages: 328
Genres: Literary Fiction, Speculative Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Beth lives in a remote village by the sea, a desolate place where she can rebuild her life following the return of her husband after the war. Vic is haunted by his memories and turns to a machine to take his nightmares away, but it takes everything away; now Beth is determined to rebuild him.

Dubbed as Frankenstein for the 21st century, The Machine is a wonderfully dark and complex novel that really deserves more attention. I normally get annoyed when novels are compared to Frankenstein; how can any novel truly compare? The Machine was a different story; I wasn’t expecting it to compare to Frankenstein, I was more interested with the dark and complex nature of this book. The novel reminds me more of the British TV show Black Mirror; there are two episodes in particular, the episode where all memories are recorded for instant playback (1×3) and the one where a woman loses her husband and turns to a service that continues his online life (2×1). The show is considered “a hybrid of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected which taps into our contemporary unease about our modern world” and is designed to be thought provoking. In fact The Machine feels right at home with the style of that show.

Imagine if you can record all your memories and then wipe the ones that cause pain?  Would removing some memories change a person completely? What if that machine wipes every memory and leaves the person catatonic? What are the moral implications of playing with someone’s memories? How should the government regulate scientific advances like this? If you could, would you try to rebuild a loved one? There are just so many questions to answer and The Machine does a great job of creating more. Don’t expect answers, this book is all about giving you questions.

I love a novel that gets you questioning life and philosophy. James Smythe masterfully does what so many try to do, it’s so refreshing to read something like this but it makes me sad that this book isn’t getting more attention. I feel the need to read every James Smythe book I can get my hands on in the desire to experience this feeling again. Science Fiction is a genre that really can explore humanity and morality and Smythe reminds the readers that it’s possible. In the 60s and 70s it felt like all Sci-Fi novels had a message and we have exchanged that for entertainment. Not that there is anything wrong with entertaining the reader but you can do that while exploring philosophical ideas.

There is so much I want to say about this book and the majority of it is positive but I won’t, I think everyone should read this book and experience it for themselves. The plot is compelling and James Smythe writes like a master of his craft. The Machine has already secured a place in my “best books of 2013” list and I want to read more of his books, just to have this experience again. Go out now and get your copy of The Machine.