I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Through the Cracks is a review series focusing on the ones that got away. These are timeless classics that everyone has read—everyone, that is, except the reviewer, who is finally getting around to reading a book which somehow slipped through the cracks and trying to see if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.

I RobotI love reading, I love science fiction, and I have a deep appreciation for the “classics.” I don’t just appreciate them theoretically (as some might), but I’ve taken the time to read the vast majority of the books on any “classics” list and I’ve read most of the famous science fiction, old and new, from most niche lists made by avid sci-fi readers. With some classic sci-fi authors (like Heinlein), I’ve read not just their most famous, but a staggering number of their books. Yet how did it happen that I’ve never read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov until just now? And not just this book, but never before anything by Asimov?

Funny enough, I’ve always had it in my mind that Asimov was boring. Yes, many people say that regarding a large number of general literature classics which I’ve later found to be thrilling and deeply enriching, so why would I be worried that a classic sci-fi book about robots would be boring?
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on the road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Through the Cracks is a review series focusing on the ones that got away. These are timeless classics that everyone has read—everyone, that is, except the reviewer, who is finally getting around to reading a book which somehow slipped through the cracks and trying to see if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.

Before I read Jack Kerouac’s “fictional” novel On the Road I knew it only by legend, and perhaps this is the reason it’s taken me up until now to read it. On the Road is one of those books with an elusive reputation. For years, I’ve been hearing every imaginable opinion of this book: everything from praises as high as “It’s an untouchable masterpiece,” to Truman Capote’s famous quip, “That’s not writing; it’s typing.” I didn’t know which camp I would fall into: the Kerouac devotees, or those who question On the Road’s status as a classic. Having now read On the Road, I have three strong opinions on it: I wouldn’t change a word of it, I wouldn’t remove it from the canon if I had the power to do so, and I would be a liar if I didn’t admit I almost gave up on it before I realized this.

on the road
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RedQueen

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

                I’m a sucker for a good series.  Once I start, I can’t stop.  And I’m just a teeny bit of an Anglophile.  So when a former college instructor of mine recommended The White Queen, book one of The Cousins’ War series, I jumped in.  And I loved it.  This series tells of the Cousins’ War, or the War of the Roses, fought for the throne of England between the houses of Lancaster and York, from the point of view of the women involved – a unique perspective.  I loved learning about Elizabeth Woodville, the first known queen of England whom a king married for love rather than arrangement.  How influential she was in the War, how she was loved by some and hated by others, how she strove for power, how she loved her children…  She was painted as ambitious and power-seeking, yet as the protagonist, readers sympathized with her as she strove for influence and greatness and as she worked to advance her children in the world.  We cried with her when she hid in sanctuary in fear for her life and her children’s lives.  Gregory caused us to feel for Elizabeth and the Yorks.

But in The Red Queen, the second book in the series, Gregory completely shifts the point of view from York to Lancaster, from Elizabeth Woodville to Margaret Beaufort – mother of the last Lancaster heir.  This purposeful shift in point of view was the most striking part of this book.  Rather than continue in the spirit of York, readers are given a dose of the Lancaster side of the fight, specifically through the eyes of the mother of Henry Tudor.
RedQueen

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Missing-You-Metropolis-Cover-Art

Missing You, Metropolis by Gary Jackson

Missing-You-Metropolis-Cover-Art

I’m not a poet, but my whole life, I’ve kept bumping into them. Four years ago, I had just moved to Lake Charles, LA from Memphis,TN for a job. At the time, my only real social outlet was the creative writing MFA students at McNeese thanks to my undergrad BFF and fellow FoA reviewer, Allie Mariano, who was one of them. This basically meant that I went to a lot of poetry readings and drank a lot of alcohol.

Every month or so, a visiting writer would come to McNeese to read their work and critique the students’ writings. One such writer was the poet Gary Jackson who had recently won the Cave Canum Poetry Prize for his book of poems, Missing You, Metropolis. Something about his reading stuck with me. After, we spoke briefly at a party, a wobbly, booze-soaked conversation (on my end, at least).  To be quite honest, I don’t remember a single detail of it. What I do remember is that he seemed present and kind.

All of this is to say that I have finally gotten around to finishing that book and I’ll tell you, Gary Jackson writes poetry that I can get behind. Because that’s a thing, isn’t it? People who haven’t studied poetry are intimidated by it and assume that they won’t understand it. His use of language is straightforward and adept; he creates stories and images that even a simple poet-friend like me can connect with.

In Missing You, Metropolis, Jackson writes about the hidden lives of super heroes in a comedic but strangely realistic and human way. Batman, Superman, The Hulk, Iron Man, Spider Man, Luke Cage, Captain America- the gang’s all there. Jackson plays with these heroes in a sometimes cheeky, sometimes heartbreaking manner. Throughout the book, they reminisce about their conquests then turn around to discuss their domestic disputes. In “The Dilemma of Lois Lane,” Lois finds herself pondering love and her own mortality as compared to her nearly indestructible beau:

Sometimes,

when we’re alone at home,

fixing dinner, you’ll pretend

to wince when you cut yourself,

and I find myself hoping

that the tiniest drop of blood

will bloom on your finger. (Lines 22-28)

Between these grand (and sometimes not so grand) characters, Jackson gives us glimpses from his own life: what it was like to grow up as a comic book loving Black kid in Kansas, the ache of adolescence, the pervasiveness of loss. The superhero theme might be enough to intrigue anyone, but I feel that it’s these intensely vulnerable and personal poems that pack the real punch. In “Machine,” Jackson recounts visiting a close friend who had presumably just attempted suicide:

Desperate to impart

some final words of empathy

that will convince him to stay with me,

I tell him it feels like a part of me

is in this place. He smiles.

A part of you is. Then laughs,

as if he realizes the world

has finally broken us

in two. (Lines 17-24)

I found that the more I read the poems, the closer I felt to the speakers. It doesn’t matter if it’s Spider Man or Batman,  they are all just people really.  I felt connected and understood even though my own experience has been so different from Jackson’s and believe it or not, The Incredible Hulk’s. In the end, I found these poems to be both Super and Human.

Storm Front

Demons and Detectives

Fantasy novels these days tend to draw most of their lore from Tolkien. The main characters are the tall and pretty elves or the evil and ugly orcs. So it’s refreshing to see a book like Storm Front draw it’s workings from myths and fables found in the world we actually live in. Given that the book is set in modern times, the inclusion of all these quirky superstitions makes the book seem that much more believable. There is a reason we are afraid of the dark.

Storm Front is a detective novel with magic. Set in modern day Chicago, it follows the wizard/detective/scamp Harry Dresden as he tries to solve a maleficent magical murder. As with any good detective novel, Harry follows leads, gets stumped, and finally puts everything together in a nice little package. The book ends with the promise of more to come, and is a fairly enjoyable read.

As I mentioned above, I was particularly pleased with the lore of this book. Much of the magic and beasts are based on old superstitions, folktales, fables, myths, and legends with just enough of its own twist to make it interesting. There are several times in the book where the author takes what is almost cliché and puts it in a whole new light that makes sense both for the book, and for our own world. This is one of the most endearing points for me; being able to pretend that the fantasy world is real. There are ghouls and zombies, but since most of us have never actually seen them, we get an exaggerated and misinformed stereotype.

I have a few nitpicks with the book. First of all, it’s too short. At 322 pages paperback, I burned through it in one (work-free) day. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but along with the lack of thought-provoking content, I found myself a bit unsatisfied. There were plenty of interesting characters and ideas brought up in the book, but they were never really explored. Even Mr. Dresden could have had substantial more character development, and he is by far the most examined character in the book. Butcher gives himself plenty of room for later books in which to explore certain aspects of magic or do a more in-depth analysis of character, but Storm Front felt less like a satisfying meal that I want to eat again and more like an appetizer I had mistaken for the main dish.

On a personal note, I think the fantasy is a touch overdone for this novel. The uninitiated public in this novel maintain a strong disbelief in magic in spite of evidence to the contrary, while at the same time they hold irrelevant superstitions. No one believes in magic but no one looks the wizard in the eye because they are afraid. There are hordes of prophetic druggies, but no one bats an eye. Either magic should be much more secret (thereby keeping the setting closer to our world) or the public attitude should be less suspicious (more of an alternate reality).  Butcher lands somewhere in between and gets less story-telling power from either approach.

Taken all-together, it’s a decent book. I greatly enjoyed the way fantastic elements were imported into the modern world (even though the human’s attitudes were less believable) and there is really quite a lot in the story that is gripping and I hope gets explored in the following books. There are good characters that have the potential to become quite full-fleshed and empathetic in coming books. Storm Front is an acceptable start to the series, but perhaps a bit lacking in its own right. I’ll still think twice about looking a wizard in the eye.

The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order by George Monbiot

Throughout the lion’s share of my life I viewed politics as an incomprehensible web of distant and irrelevant nonsense. I frequently dismissed political news and issues as boring and entirely immaterial to my life of computer games, 18th century poetry, bass guitar and serial monogamy. Over breakfast I would completely disregard Mum’s claims that politics ‘affects everything’. Three years ago that all changed.

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walden audible

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

walden audible

Courtesy: Audible.com

Walden by Henry David Thoreau recounts two years, two months and two days that the author spent in the woods near the pond after which the book was named. Starting on July 4th, 1845, Thoreau set out to the woods, leaving behind a newspaper job, a house and a community in search of some truth, an insight into himself and the nature of the person inspired by self-imposed exile. He, of course, didn’t cut off human contact. No, far from it. He welcomed guests to his hand-made shelter, made trips to town to sell produce and make social calls and befriended others living out in the countryside, like a charismatic French-Canadian woodsman who goes unnamed. Walden was a high water mark for the American Memoir, but only insomuch as it was one of the first. In truth, Thoreau is a pedantic, judgmental and narcissistic author, the kind of person who would later become the modern hipster. Needless to say I did not care for the book, though I read it anyway. Or did I? Walden was one of the first audiobooks I’ve…engaged with…in a long time, and as I sat to write this review, it occurred to me, can I truely say that I’ve read the book?

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