Book reviews

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
Published: 2014-09-09
The sudden death of a Hollywood actor during a production of King Lear marks the beginning of the world's dissolution, in a story told at various past and future times from the perspectives of the actor and four of his associates. By the author of The Lola Quartet. 50,000 first printing.
I thought I was done reading post-apocalyptic novels. I read a bunch when I was in high school and college. I don't know why, but that seems to be the age for post-apocalypse & dystopia. Somebody's probably written a dissertation on that. Why do they appeal at that age, and why do they lose their appeal as you get older (unless it's just me, which I suppose is possible, and unless it's written by Stephen King, who can write just about anything and I'll read it).

But a friend was enthusiastic about this one, and said it was different. There's a traveling theater and music troupe; there's an insane religious cult; there's a dreadful flu that kills 99% of humanity in the space of a few weeks; there are scattered settlements among the abandoned cars; and there's a good amount of pre-apocalyptic story about people who are or are somehow associated with the post-A cast of characters. The timeline bounces around a lot.

So what's different about it, and why five stars? For one thing, there's a lot of art in it - Shakespeare, classical music, and the comic book that's set on Station Eleven in space, not to mention the movie star world of one of the characters. There's an appreciation for the things we take for granted; not just the big things but the ordinary daily life stuff we hardly notice. A message about skimming across life without paying attention, buried in smartphones and speaking trite office jargon to each other, runs through the pre-A segments. It spans a period of 20 years after the flu plus an undefined time before, and the progression through breakdown of civilization to what comes next over that long period seemed plausible.

The spirit is hopeful, on the whole. I think that might be one reason I, at least, lost interest in dystopia and post-apocalypse: I stopped wanting to read anything that was going to make me feel hopeless and miserable. And the writing itself is masterful; it pulled me into the world of the book and never bumped me out.

I'm glad I read it.

The Outsider

The Outsider
Published: 2018-05
When an eleven-year-old boy is found murdered in a town park, reliable eyewitnesses undeniably point to the town's popular Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the culprit. DNA evidence and fingerprints confirm the crime was committed by this well-loved family man. Horrified by the brutal killing, Detective Ralph Anderson, whose own son was once coached by Maitland, orders the suspect to be arrested in a public spectacle. But Maitland has an alibi. And further research…

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Inspiring, entertaining, interesting, informative. Hadfield did the narration on the audiobook so I got to hear it all in his own voice.

I'm so glad there are people like Chris Hadfield in the world: hard-working, down-to-earth, smart, can-do, humble, friendly, and helpful. His book is a memoir with bonus lessons for living. There's all kinds of interesting stuff about things like the 40-minute process to collect urine for a research project he participated in on the International Space Station (Peeing For Science), and what it's like to adjust to gravity again after spending months in space. It's all in the context of the importance of the space program, and with a little coda about the importance of protecting the Earth.

The lessons for living are down to earth and practical, too:
* Enjoy the process - the only thing you can control is your attitude. If your sense of self worth depends on achieving your ultimate goal (like space flight), which is affected by lots of things outside your control, you'll never be happy. Study, learn, and appreciate every day.
* Practice negative thinking - visualize the worst and figure out how to prevent it
* Be humble - he calls this aiming to be a zero. Be competent and don't get in the way while you observe and attempt to learn, rather than trying to impress others.
* Sweat the small stuff - we all know how important this is in the space program, where a tiny error can lead to tragedy.
* Appreciate and recognize other people's efforts and sacrifices that enable you to work towards your own goals.