As the cover informs me, this is "The most famous science fiction novel ever written". Well, I am no expert for science fiction literature, but I wouldn’t go this far. And even if it is the most famous sci-fi novel ever written, it certainly is not the best.
First of all, I disliked this initial will-they-won’t-they relationship between Jill and Ben so much, because it felt completely out of place and rather irrelevant (which it turned out to be, surprise), although I did like Jill from the very beginning. Secondly, Heinlein is bringing in a bunch of new characters in every new part of the book whom I personally didn’t care much about, could only distinguish from each other to a certain degree (until the very end) and who replace the well established characters as protagonists. Then in the third part, he finally starts to focus on the Man from Mars, letting the former main characters like Ben or Harshaw fall into almost complete oblivion. Also, while focusing more and more on Mike, Jill gets so incredibly one dimensional and stereotypical, that it was hard to bear at some points and last, but not least, the lack of storytelling quality became painfully apparent as the book carried on.
Starting from chapter three, the rest of the book basically becomes a treatise on sex and orgies – from a male and VERY heterosexual point of view – this goes as far as Ben, running out of a building, naked and in full panick mode, just because Mike tried to touch him while he was making out with Jill on the sofa or Harshaw explicitly stating (more than once) that being gay is without any doubt "a wrongness" for men, yet while being a lesbian is also wrong, it is somehow less wrong and therefore tolerable.
And if all of the above wouldn’t be bad enough on their own, the dialogues are so badly written, it hurt. They are not just stylistically bad, but most of the time they consist of nothing but tough talk, without anybody taking action or doing even a fraction of what they were saying for the last four pages (this especially concerns the character of Jubal Harshaw). I was not expecting high class literature when I picked up Stranger in a Strange Land, but the only other instance I can remember when I encountered dialogues written this bad was while watching The Expendables.
The last thing, that probably bothered me the most was the sexism. Sexism in the 60's was obviously an everyday thing and let us all take a moment to be thankful that what was considered "normal" fifty years ago would nowadays involve a nasty lawsuit. I could give you countless examples of passages that not only annoyed, but seriously upset or disgusted me, but I posted some of them here already and this review is getting way too long as it is.
I really tried to get into the story, but this book simply didn’t work for me, although the basic underlying problem of human expansion and exploitation (be it other countries or other planets) as well as the human ignorance when it comes to different believes, societies or species would be a super interesting topic to explore (not to mention the abuse of power and the government trying to produce a doppelgänger, putting out fake news and covering up their actions), but I don’t think that this was Heinleins goal. To be honest, I am not quite sure of what Heinlein wanted to get across here. Love thy neighbour, maybe?
This edition contains three Texts by Cavendish, but I skipped both The Contract and Assaulted and Pursued Chasity and only read The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World from 1666, the one and only text of its kind written by a 17th century authoress. It is a mixture of what I perceive as a fairy tale, utopian fiction, romance, „scientific“ speculation and a little bit of meta science fiction elements thrown into it with a very peculiar punctuation and way too few paragraph breaks.
The story itself was okay, the ramblings about natural philosophy and alchemy were extremely tedious and way too long, but the part where the protagonist Empress starts to hang out with the author of the book (her „platonic“ bestie) woke me up again. I would have loved the Empress to prefer the zombie army over the submarines to conquer the world she originally came from, but well, I guess the 17th century was a bit too early for a zombie hype.
Only a male author in the 60's could let his female protagonist say some bullshit like this. Classic or not, but Stranger in a strange land really disgusts me from time to time, just take a look at this passage:
It is not because I needed to read a book on how to get an optimistic perspective on life that I came across Danny Wallaces book, but a couple of weeks ago I rewatched the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man (recommended btw) and noticed for the first time, that it was based on a book – and that made me curious. Also, while the lot of you are reading Halloween-themed stuff and my timeline here is filled with stories about ghosts, murderers and/or spooky stuff of all sorts (not complaining, do your thing, guys and girls), I also wanted to bring in some fresh air and diversity to your timelines as well. You’re welcome.
So basically, this book is about Wallace’s experiment to „say Yes more“, which means, he started saying „yes“ to basically anything and everything which led to a lot of new experiences – good ones, bad ones, strange ones and really awkward ones. Of course, there’s the obligatory responding to email spam and scams (he wrote this in 2005), but despite doing obviously stupid things like that, it is a very nice read. Not very demanding in an intellectual kind of way, but entertaining and even a bit inspirational nonetheless.
And it is very British indeed!
Oh dear. Sticking with the dream metaphor, I have to say that this book was a nightmare in more than one regard! After the very rough start it gives you thanks to the overly antiquated language, you’d think it would get better once you’re used to that, but this is not the case whatsoever, because all of L’an 2440 remains an exhausting, yet not really rewarding read.
First of all, Mercier must have had a severe footnote fetish. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that almost every page contains at least two of them, sometimes the footnotes even take up more space on the page than the actual text. And as if this wouldn’t have been enough distraction, there are hundreds of additional annotations and comments by the translator as well as editor of this book, so focusing on the already not electrifying plot is a serious challenge.
Secondly, instead of describing his utopian vision of Paris in 2440, Mercier is almost exclusively complaining about his 18th century present and – if you think about it – even this happens in a weird way. In his dream he talks to a bunch of 25th century people and it seems that every one of them must be a historian specialised in 18th century France, because they are very well informed about various details of everyday life during that time. And I mean very well informed indeed.
For a utopian novel there are hardly any innovations to be found, Merciers idea of improving the shitty present doesn’t go any further than having a "good" monarch ascend the throne and enact a bunch of morally improved laws. All in all, this is way too preachy, exhausting and too far off from the good old liberté, égalité and fraternité to enjoy reading it.
Oh man, Science Fiction from the 60's... So. Much. Sexism.
I am having a lot of Logan's Run flashbacks.
This is A. J. Lieblings fascinating (and very episodical) account of America’s golden age of boxing. It does not only deal with the careers of legendary fighters like Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano or Sugar Ray Robinson (amongst others), but it includes the people behind and next to those iconic boxers as well. I was probably pretty biased towards this book right from the very beginning, because after dreaming about it for years, I finally found the time (and the balls) to start boxing myself and regardless of all the initial insecurity, frustration, the never-ending soreness of muscles and every punch in the face I got since then, I still love every minute and every round of sparring!
I never thought it possible to write about boxing like this – graceful, incredibly poetic, insightful and humorous. AJ Lieblings sharp analyses show his enthusiasm – I would even go as far as calling it his love – for the sport and everyone involved in it. His understanding of fine pugilism itself helps him to find amazing metaphors, thus creating a poetic mixture of boxing and literature, filled with underlying (pretty sophisticated) jokes that will hit your jaw like a straight right as soon as you drop your guard for a second.
But The Sweet Science is also a celebration of nostalgia. By rendering an era before TV and commercial success started to ruin sports in general and drag it down to the publicity spectacle most of it is today, Liebling demonstrates what it meant to personally go to an event, to be there, being completely present in the moment and to not only observe what is going on around you, but to actively engage and interact with your environment.
There are indeed some downsides to this as well. First and foremost its outdatedness, by which I especially mean the television bashing and the slight, but persistent racism (he really tries hard to not only mention every fighters skin colour, but to also give you a very good idea of the exact shade of it). Also he is mainly focusing on the heavyweight division (as always), although he is mentioning some noteworthy light- and welterweights as well.
Overall I think that AJL succeeded in capturing the often overlooked beauty of boxing while at the same time elevating the craftsmanship of sportswriting to a whole new level. If you think like my mum (who still hates the idea of me putting on gloves) and consider boxing as being just another level of brawling, a dumb sport for brutal nincompoops who frantically swing at each other, I can only beg you to read this enthusiastic and lively account and let yourself be convinced of what a sweet, sweet science boxing truly is.
So. Many. Footnotes!
Seriously, half of almost every page is filled with footnotes by the author, I can hardly focus on the text.
Just to give you an example of why I am in love with this book:
"Next, a short but barrel-chested Puerto Rican lightweight came on with a thin fellow from Philadelphia; the weights were even, and it was a contest between a vertical line and a cube. This was better – the Philadelphian was resolute, although unduly prolonged, and the Puerto Rican appeared to be a great hitter, in a shot-putting style. ‘Look at him!’ a man behind me cried. ‘He looks like a monkey – you know – a griller!’ Having found his mot juste, he stuck to it for eight rounds. ‘A griller!’ he would exclaim whenever the Puerto Rican would up to pitch a fist. ‘A griller! A griller!’ The griller did not succeed in converting the Philadelphian into a horizontal, but he made him look like two sides of a triangle in search of a third."
This is such a poetic way of writing about boxing - I would have never imagined that this was possible!
What a way to start a book on boxing:
It is through Jack O’Brian, the Arbiter Elegantiarum Philadelphiae, that I trace my rapport with the historic past through the laying-on of hands. He hit me, for pedagogical example, and he had been hit by the great Bob Fitzsimmons, from whom he won the light-heavyweight title in 1906. Jack had a scar to show for it. Fitzsimmons had been hit by Corbett, Corbett by John L. Sullivan, he by Paddy Ryan, with the bare knuckles, and Ryan by Joe Goss, his predecessor, who as a young man had felt the fist of the great Jem Mace. It is a great thrill to feel that all that separates you from the early Victorians is a series of punches on the nose.
Believe it or not, but I bought and read this one solely because I might have (had) a little crush on the translator, who btw is not only a really sweet and charming guy, but he does an amazing job of translating Bulgarian into German as well.
I honestly wasn’t really expecting much from Physik der Schwermut, but surprisingly, it pulled me in really quickly with a multifaceted story that is not too easy to follow, but also not too hard, that is as twisted as it is exiting and as nostalgic as it is modern. Gospodinov wrote a very postmodern novel with an unreliable narrator, a protagonist with a fragmented self and some leaps in time as well as in space which takes the reader on a somewhat melancholic journey through the corridors of the Minotaur’s labyrinth mirrored by various European cities.
Gospodinov has an amazing way of creating different atmospheres and of playing around with ambiguity and irony on a literary level which you rarely come across in contemporary literature. What I am trying to say is, that basically this book had no reason for being this good.
As always, Mizumura writes quite a long prologue before getting started with what she actually wants to say and as always, I quite enjoy reading it. Also, this is again going to be a long review, because, as always, Minae Mizumura deserves nothing less (but feel free, to just jump to the last paragraph for the bottom line).
In her first non-fiction book she deals with the question of what it means to read and write in ones own language in our modern era, where English is just all over the place. Thanks to our digital age, the almost absolute supremacy of the English language cannot be compared to any lingua franca before and there is some uncertainty about the question of the roles our national (non English) languages are going to play in the future.
The language we read, write and talk in has an enormous impact on our daily life and I say this out of my personal experience, because if I have leaned anything by (more or less) studying seven languages, it is that each and every one of them comes with an individual and unique mindset. There is this inevitable breaking point when you finally start to get a grip on any foreign language when you notice, that you do not only speak it, but when doing so, you also think in a different way. So, by imposing English on all of us non-English native speakers, chances are, that not only the language itself is imposed on us, but gradually the English culture and mindset are as well.
I am guilty of switching languages myself, because English is not my mother tongue, nor do I have any other reason to write in it, other than the fact that more people here understand English than German. The boon and bane of English as our modern day universal language is obvious. I undoubtedly consider it amazing to have a language in which I can communicate with people from all over the world. Especially here in Central Europe we are used to constantly having to deal with people from different countries who speak all sorts of languages (and I love this unique situation) and if you cannot find a common linguistic ground, it is just awesome that you have a lingua franca in which you can talk to each other. Yet at the same time, my mother tongue is very important to me, I love it, I can express myself the most eloquently and I am kind of getting sick and tired of having to write all academic papers in English, because if you don’t, chances are, no one will read them. Nonetheless, I consider myself fortunate, because I have learned a lot of languages and I enjoy nothing more than using them. I could not imagine being a monolingual, only speaking English – although let’s face it, this is probably all you need 90% of the time anywhere in the world (besides when visiting Russia and France – you go, guys!).
But back to Mizumura (but still staying in Europe). It was cute to read about an „outsider’s“ perspective on the European language scene, because even though most of the languages spoken here are Indo-European which means, that they can be traced back to the same root (a shout-out to all you Hungarian, Estonian and Finish folks!), that does not mean, that we mutually understand each other, which Mizumura for some reason seems to assume. Hell, I don‘t even understand some of my fellow Austrians if they choose to talk in their hardcore dialect.
And now to Japan. She naturally writes a lot about the development of the Japanese language and literature, including an enormous amount of facts which I was absolutely unaware of before. This was a lot to take in, which is one amongst many reasons why it took me so long to finish this book. Since I am by no means able to judge her historical sketch of Japanese language and culture from an academic point of view, I can only state my impressions about it. I cannot help but think, that her depiction of the Japanese and their relationship to literature in the 20th century is a highly elitist point of view (for I am pretty sure, that Japanese farmers had different concerns in their everyday life than to have smalltalk about translations of Western classic literature and I am also pretty convinced, that not every family read five different newspapers per day and had collections of classical literature in their bookshelves). Maybe I am wrong about this, but it just seemes to be a too good to be true picture in which she judged the whole of Japan by herself and her own standards.
Alright, bottom line: I am unsure of what to say. The book is a bit repetitive (200 pages is not that long, but it could have definitely been shorter) which makes some parts really tedious to read. For my taste, it was too nationalistic (but maybe that’s just my European mindset since I cannot judge Japan’s situation) as well as too elitist. I really enjoy her writing style (ironically judging by the English translation), but compared to A True Novel, I love Mizumura’s fiction way more than her facts. Last, but not least, The Fall of Language in the Age of English is not so much educational in itself (although you learn a lot about Japan), but it is really thought-provoking, it makes you reflect on your own linguistic situation and this alone makes it worth reading.
So far I have known Tieck only as a translator, never before have I read anything originally written by him and now that I have, I feel like I have missed out on something great so far.
This Puss in Boots is probably the weirdest play I have ever read and considering it was first published in 1797 it must have been the first metadrama ever written. There is so much in this short play that anticipated a lot of Brechts later theatrical tactics and manoeuvres that I am baffled and convinced that Tieck’s Puss in Boots signifies the birth of the anti-illusional theatre. This is a play of a play, portraying the completely failed attempt to stage a play. Yet, there is neither a real play with a plot, nor a framing story, but everything there is, goes hand in hand and cannot be separated from each other.
The only two downsides I would have to mention is the pretty antiquated language and the very much outdated satire. But besides that, Brecht, Beckett and Stoppard are looking quite old in comparison here.