Eileen and All Grown Up: The Unlikable Heroine

One of my bookish pet peeves is when someone says they didn’t like a book because all the characters were unlikable.

Well guess what, it’s not the character’s job to make you like him or her. It’s the author’s job to make you care anyway. You might care because the character is a tragic villain (see: Aaron Burr in Hamilton) or because you can’t wait to see them get their comeuppance (see: any Game of Thrones villain; Voldemort.) But you don’t have to like them.

A character can be unlikable and still be a good character, just as a character can be totally likeable, an angelic snowflake of goodness, and still make for an awful character. Characters should be judged by depth, not whether we’d meet them for drinks at Applebee’s.

I happened to read two books in a row starring some pretty unlikable characters, both of them women.

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Bookcano 2017: March – Science and Religion Sittin’ in a Tree – Foundation by Isaac Asimov

The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.

Someday I will write a blog post after I finish all 7 novels for Asimov’s Foundation series. When I visited the Tacoma Book Center to find the original Foundation, I found instead every other book except the first one, and thus had to resort to Amazon, where I accidentally ordered an extra copy.

The only other books I’ve read by Asimov is I, Robot. Foundation is similar in structure, each part of the book is episodic, almost like short stories unto themselves.

The Empire has been running the galaxy for 12,000 years, until a psychohistorian (basically a mathematician who predicts the future via statistics) named Hari Seldon dumps on the party with the news that the Empire will be toast within 300 years. What will follow will either be 30,000 years of barbarism, or, if the Empire allows the psychohistorian to build his special project, the Encyclopedia Galactica, to preserve scientific knowledge, only 1,000 years of crap times.

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February Wrap Up: Please let us be in The Matrix

Last month was a slow reading month for me, as I racked up only 8 books, 2 of them non-fiction, 2 of them audiobooks.

Well, enough about me! Let’s talk about books.

My current thing seems to be Sci-Fi. I was recommend The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and immediately following read A Call to Arms by Alan Dean Foster. I wrote a post about the contrasting portrayal of earth in each novel. Either earth sucks, or it doesn’t; either humans are scary, or we’re puny and stampable.

There was very little reality going on in February (possibly a desire to escape the very real reality of the current state of our country?) A dog solved mysteries, pseudo-gods played the long game, a ghost haunted the desolate peaks of the Himalayas, and a woman on the verge of death hallucinated the nightmare of the century.

Hands down, my favorite book of the month was The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.

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How to even describe this book? A modern fantasy where the blissful ignorance of our current reality is on a precipice, and the only thing that keeps us from plunging back into a fearful age darker than anything in the past is a group of orphans educated by “Father.” Each of the “librarians” has been educated in a certain catalog from childhood, such as language, animals, death, healing, and warfare. The education is unbelievably brutal, especially when death is meaningless. It is truly difficult to describe the wild, violent, heartrending ride of mythological proportions. It might be compared to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, but I found The Library at Mount Char much more propulsive and meaningful.

Less great was Dog on It by Spencer Quinn. The conceit is kind of adorable. Told from the perspective of Chet, a Police Dog Academy dropout and his kind of dumb human, private eye Bernie. Truly, the only evidence we have of Bernie’s intellect is that fact that Chet thinks he’s great, but Chet’s a dog, and dogs aren’t necessarily renowned for their deductive thinking. Bernie is your standard middle-aged divorcee who listens to jazz and plays ukelele and also happens to be a private eye. The central mystery of the story is so paint-by-numbers that even a cat could figure it out.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari was my book club’s pick of the month, and I listened to the audiobook, which was fun. Instead of a memoir, Ansari (or Tom from Parks and Rec) examines the ways in which technology has changed the dating scene. His investigations are surprisingly thorough. He uses studies, focus groups, and travels to different countries to examine cultural differences. While none of the information was anything new, it was consolidated and made entertaining by Ansari’s narration. Yeah, so people meet on the internet these days, and freak out when their text messages aren’t returned within 15 seconds, and the ideal profile picture of a woman is the high angle cleavage shot, so I guess I’m out of luck.

Finally, there’s Thin Air, by Michelle Paver. Set in the 1930’s, a British expedition sets off to conquer the 3rd highest peak in the world, Kangchenjunga. It’s a short novel, with little depth in the way of character or story, that places the team high up in one of the world’s most desolate places with only a ghost for company. I love a mountain story and while this one didn’t have the breadth of The Abominable by Dan Simmons or Summit by Harry Farthing, it was an enjoyable one sitting reading.

Here’s the full list:

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Undoing Problem by Michael Lewis
A Call to Arms by Alan Dean Foster
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Dog on it by Spencer Quinn
Thin Air by Michelle Paver
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

THINGS THAT WERE NOT BOOKS

  • The Oscars – What? I almost didn’t watch the Oscars because I haven’t seen any of the movies (except the songs from Moana over and over and over and over again.) But so worth it!
  • Orphan Black, Season 4. They just announced that season 5 will be it for OB, which is probably for the best, and season 4 was far better than season 3, so let’s hope it’s on the up and up again. I still can’t convince myself that the clones are all the same actress. It’s creating some serious cognitive dissonance.
  • Apparently the only movie I watched one movie last month, which was Train to Busan, a Korean movie like 28 Days Later on a train. This movie is no joke. Great addition to a genre stuffed to the gills with mediocre zombie flicks.
  • Also I re-watched some episodes of Parks and Recreation.
  • Listened to the Hamilton soundtrack 893 times.