Saturday, November 28, 2015

Review: The Human Division

The Human Division The Human Division by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This installment of The Old Man’s War series offers a look at the Colonial Union and this universe from a different perspective. Previous books have mostly been from the point of view of the CU soldiers (or ex-soldiers). Here the main characters are diplomats. Wilson is a military guy, but his job isn’t fighting, it’s technology and he’s attached to a diplomatic mission. The conflict, then, that structures the plot is different. It’s not direct violent conflict with alien races but the conflict between the characters (of various species) and what they don’t know. That is, the plot revolves mostly around the characters dealing with situations where what they know (or thought they know) is rapidly changing and they need to improvise. It makes for intense and engaging story-telling.

The characters are well drawn and each chapter pops. In part this is because each chapter (or episode) was written as a stand-alone piece, albeit with Scalzi always intending it as a novel. So each chapter can stand on its own, but also fits into the bigger picture. The overall mystery of the novel is not solved here – I presume (hope) it is in the next book.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it doesn’t offer much in terms of breaking new ground either in terms of the universe or in terms of wider science-fiction. In regards to the former, we don’t learn that much more about the CU, Earth, the Conclave, or other species in this universe. In regards to the latter, just about the only thing interesting is the brain in the box (I won’t say more to avoid spoilers). But we have to wait until the next book, I think, to learn more about that.

If, like me, you like the universe of The Old Man’s War and Scalzi’s writing style, you will enjoy The Human Division as well.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review: In the Beginning

In the Beginning In the Beginning by Chaim Potok
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Beginning is quite different in style than Potok’s earlier novels. The story is told through -somewhat non-sequential flashbacks. We see a lot of David as a young boy, but then it moves quickly through his adolescent years. He is brilliant, bookish, and intellectually rebellious—though in a quiet and confident way. It shifts back and forth from great narrative and descriptive detail to more emotional impressions. It is a lot in David’s head – sometimes when he sick with fever or lost deep in daydreams.

The overall mood of the novel is melancholy. There are moments of joy and happiness, but a lot of sadness and loneliness. It is beautiful in many ways; painting an impressionistic picture of American Orthodox Jewish life in early middle part of the 20th century.

Potok’s novels take me into a world both familiar and utterly foreign. It is a deeply Jewish world, but it’s not my Jewish world. Potok stirs in me a desire to know more about this Orthodox world, a (ever so slight) regret that I didn’t grow up and live in this world filled with Torah and Talmud. At this same time, I am repulsed by this closed, ghettoized world; one so fearful and disdainful of different knowledge and ways. I think this tension is at the heart of Potok’s novels. Be it Danny Saunders (The Chosen), Asher Lev (My Name is Asher Lev), or David (In The Beginning), the main character always straddles and struggles with this gap between the Yiddish, Orthodox world and the secular world. He wants to keep and maintain this world he knows and loves, but there is too much in him—a desire for more than what the insular Orthodox world can offer—for him to stay. He does not want to reject the past, but he also knows that life requires moving forward…to a new beginning.

View all my reviews