I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, March 16, 2015

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

In this latest by Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Thousand Acres, comes the story of the Langdon family starting at 1920, when Rosanna and Walter Langdon of Denby, Iowa work their farm and their first child is about six months.  Each chapter is a different year and shows different viewpoints of the various family members, Walter's Irish family and Rosanna's German one.  As Rosanna and Walter try to pass on their values to their children and do their best to keep them alive, when there are always accidents on the farm and anyone can die.  From Frankie, the handsome, willful firstborn, who charms his way out of things and wants more than the farm life for him; to Joe, who is born to the life of a farmer as he loves the animals and has a near magical way with the crops; Mary Elizabeth, the sweet child; the delightful Lillian; Claire, her father's favorite, and Henry, the odd duck of the family. 

This book follows them through the good times of the early twenties through the depression when they wonder if there'll be enough to eat on the table that year, through the war years when Frankie enlists in order to see more of the world, and perhaps sees too much.  Joe gets a deferment so he can work the farms.  These people are the salt of the earth and look out for each other. When harvest time comes, all the neighbors come out and help each other out.  The Langdon's also look out for their next door neighbor's farm after the death of the two girls' parents, one of which girl, Joe has his eye on for many years but seems to get no where with her.  They also look out for an Uncle who committed suicide's farm as well as the grandparents farm. 

Its a wonder they have time to do anything.  For a long time, Walter resists using tractors and sticks to the old method of horses, but times change and he has more work to do so he invests in a tractor.  Not knowing what to do with Frankie, who is too smart for his own good, they send him to live in Chicago with Rosanna's younger sister and her husband and daughter.  But they aren't much help in that they are obsessed with the Communist Party and have no time to watch over Frankie and make sure he does not get into trouble.

Joe is the sweet child, who should be treasured by someone special, not necessarily the one that he wants.  The two girls are special in their own ways as well.  Unfortunately not all of the children survive the book.  After the war, Frankie stumbles upon a job where he sniffs out spies and communists that are against the United States.

This book is the first in an epic trilogy of an enthralling family and how they once started out in such simple ways, but quickly become complex as the world becomes more convoluted and things become less black and white as they once were.  This book is a fascinating look at a family throughout the twentieth century and what they do to survive.   

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

First off, this book has a lot of physics terms (at least I think they are physics terms; he could be making it all up for all I know of physics).  But that does not matter.  Just like watching Star Trek or Star Wars, or any other science fiction show or movie, you do not really have to understand what they are talking about.  You can get the general gist of what it means in normal terms.  I do not understand how the Star Trek: The Next Generation Enterprise Core worked, but I have general ideas when the plot centers around the engine core blowing up.

This book centers on a thirty-year-old time machine tech, Charles Yu who spends more time in his time capsule named Tammy (who has a self-esteem problem and cries often).  His job is to go back in time to help other time travelers who have damaged their machines and fix it so they can get back to the present.  He finds it sad that when you can go to any point in your timeline and visit (you must NEVER meet yourself or bad things will happen) they choose the worst moment of their life and relive it over and over again, hoping for a different outcome which never happens, because no matter how hard you try, you can not change the past.  The universe will not allow it.

Charles got into the time machine business as a young child.  His father came up with a theory on how to make time travel possible and the two spend ten years working on building a time machine.  When things do not work out as planned, Charles's father hops into his new time machine and disappears, leaving him and his mother alone.  He is forced to drop out of school and get work as a tech and his mother ends up renting a machine that replays one hour on a loop for however many years you pay for.  She plays out a dinner with Charles and her husband as holograms.  Charles, in person, rarely visits her, which he feels guilty about.  Charles has shut himself off from the world by essentially living in his time machine with an science fiction dog and Tammy for company.  Every few years or so he goes back home for maintenance of his vehicle, and while years have passed in his life a day or maybe a week has only passed at home. 

After returning for maintenance and he shows up to pick up his machine, he sees another him step out of a machine and instead of running away, which is what he is supposed to do, he shoots his future shelf and climbs into the time machine and is now in a time loop.  Inside the machine is a book that is partly filled out and shows him how to find his father, who can possibly save him.  But time is running out and as he tries to accept his impending death, he cannot quite give up so easily, even though you cannot change time he will do his best to attempt it.

This book delves into the life of a lonely man who longs to know why his father deserted him and his mother and shows how he refuses to face life and instead hides away from it in his machine.  He makes up a life he could have lived and convinces himself that he does not need others, but over time, he begins to regret that he did not try to meet the girl of his dreams or make those close friends or be nicer to Tammy and his manager, a computer program that does not know it is only a program and acts like it is human and has a family, with a wife who is a spreadsheet program.  She knows they are not real, but she goes along with it to keep him happy in his delusion.  Truly a story of a boy and his father and their attempts to connect until it all falls apart and he loses his father, this incredibly innovative, creative, and emotional book will keep you turning the pages until the end dying to find out if you can cheat fate.