Book Review and Notes on The Science Fiction

Last night I finally finished reading The Windup Girl. This is the first book I’ve read – honestly – in years, a statistic I am slightly embarrassed to reveal. I used to read way more: reading would inspire me, make my vocabulary better, make me think more analytically. But then I went through a phase of either starting books I couldn’t get in to or just being a too-tired new mom to dedicate the time. So I would get my “intellectual” fix from the pages of The Economist and call it a day.

I’m on a science fiction kick. As a genre it is liberating, allowing for adaptability to style and genre, a realm where ideas propel the language. Often I find other forms of fiction restrictive in this way: where I am easily distracted by an author’s choice of words, language before the ideas. With sci-fi I let it slide: I don’t know why, I just don’t really care if the choice of words isn’t executed with laser-like precision. Maybe I find some sort of sense of satisfaction, newly inspired by my own “not-good-enough-yet-now-good enough” writing style. So now I read the sci-fi and I write it. And now I write about it, in the form of this one-paragraph review:

The Windup Girl: Author Paolo Bacigalupi drops us into a world where calories are the currency. A near-future, dystopian Bangkok that is threatened by rising sea-levels and a “gene-hacked” food supply. Oil is out: energy is kinetic. Disease is manufactured, and people live in a caste-like militarised Kingdom. I won’t lie to you: life in this world sucks for everyone. Though it is a city in delicate balance: each character’s life is under constant threat, comforted by any fleeting moment of stasis. Everybody needs each other – as with any society – needs one and other to complete their job, their task, to ensure survival. It is a beautiful, tropical world that has been created by Mr. Bacigalupi, one that is being coaxed by its characters into a continued existence. As a reader, I got familiar with it, intrigued by it. Then, towards the end, this fragile balance is upset in a major, major way: it is fucking destroyed. So awesome, so satisfying. Loved it. Thank you, sir.

Anyhow, selfishly, this book kind of mind-fucked me. I had begun writing a piece of sci-fi last year before knowing that The Windup Girl even existed. There were several similarities to what I was writing – not a totality, but the thread of food being totally industralised, and the world being at the mercy of some forces of nature, were common to my thing. I suppose those themes probably exist in tons of sci-fi: they are prevalent issues in today’s society, and that is was sci-fi does best: critique/troubleshoot our real world problems.

And so, I’ve convinced myself to finish my short story. It is a story that should belong to something longer, but there is still an independent story in there. I’ll make it available on my Scribd page (which is in it’s infancy, I admit). Follow me and get this first piece of writing as soon as it’s up. I’m giving myself one month – until June 4th, 2011. Everyone who follows me on Scribd before then will be rewarded with an exclusive audiobook/podcast version of the story, read by me!

I guess reading books can still be inspiring…

Science of Music vs. Martin Amis

During a moment spent not freaking out about Facebook removing my civil e-liberties, or analyzing the weird dreams I had last night about ordering an Americano coffee in NYC, I read a compelling book review in the Economist. The last paragraph struck me:

“[The] basic message is encouraging and uplifting: people know much more about music than they think. They start picking up the rules from the day they are born, perhaps even before, by hearing it all around them. Very young children can tell if a tune or harmony is not quite right. One of the joys of listening to music is a general familiarity with the way it is put together: to know roughly what to expect, then to see in what particular ways your expectations will be met or exceeded. Most adults can differentiate between kinds of music even if they have had no training.

Music is completely sui generis. It should not tell a non-musical story; the listener will decode it for himself. Many, perhaps most, people have experienced a sudden rush of emotion on hearing a particular piece of music; a thrill or chill, a sense of excitement or exhilaration, a feeling of being swept away by it. They may even be moved to tears, without being able to tell why. Musical analysts have tried hard to find out how this happens, but with little success. Perhaps some mysteries are best preserved.”

The book is The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It by Philip Ball. And while I probably will never read it, this abstract does offer some interesting thoughts, like: Why does music even exist? Why does it make us feel? Maybe if I read the book some of these questions would be answered. But I so rarely read analog media (Economist excluded).

AND their review of the new Martin Amis book was pretty intriguing…for a Martin Amis fan. His best since Money? Come on.