Monday 15 February 2016

Happy Family Day!

OK, I take back what I said in recent posts about not believing that we will have six more weeks of winter.  Based on the very frigid temperatures this weekend, I can totally believe it!  Thank goodness for my hot cup of chai and the warm kitty on my lap!

In honour of Family Day, I’m happy to be able to tell you about a book I read last week that is, at heart, an exploration into what it means to be a family.  The Affinities by Toronto author Robert Charles Wilson tells the story of Adam Fiske, a graphic design student from the small town of Schuyler, NY who finds himself in the big city of Toronto with no friends, no connections, no money and no prospects.  He is not close to most members of his family, except his younger stepbrother, Geddy, an awkward teen, and his Granny Fiske, an elderly woman who really supports Adam in whatever he decides to pursue.  She is funding his graphic design education in Toronto, but when she becomes ill and the future funding of his studies is at risk of  drying up, he must consider other options.  He finally gives in to the temptation and decides to be tested for the Affinities, a series of tests that will determine to which, if any, social group he belongs.  It is a bit like Facebook, except it takes in all aspects of one's life, personality and total makeup and groups individuals together with other likeminded people - unfortunately, not everyone fits into these groups, which causes some social awkwardness.  These Affinities are named after letters in the Phonecian alphabet, and Adam is thrilled to discover he is a Tau,  one of the largest, most popular, and ultimately most “powerful” of the Affinities.  Suddenly, all his problems are solved - he finds a job, a place to live and a girlfriend as he joins his Tranche (his local group of Taus).  The only hitch is that members of each Affinity associate only with others in their group, and are expected to conduct minimal interactions with “outsiders”.  Founded by Meir Klein, the Affinities begin as a way to meet others of similar makeup, but over time, rivalries between Affinities develop.  Years late, Klein expresses concern about the way things have evolved, and has ideas about new and better ways to facilitate testing and interaction for these groups. When he is murdered while at a conference in BC, Adam and his immediate tranchemates are drawn into a complex plot as the dissonance within and between Affinities dovetails with greater geopolitical instabilities, most notably in China and India.  Can Adam find a way to move on with his life even as things seem to be falling apart?  And who should he ultimately trust, his fellow Taus or his family?  The summary of this book sounded awesome, and it started out really promising, but I found myself becoming more and more disappointed in it as the story went on.  I’m not sure exactly how to describe my reading experience, but I’ll try.  It was a short book (just 300 pages), but it seemed long.  I felt that it was too vague in many areas, lacking details about the Affinities in general, the Taus specifically, and Adam’s day-to-day life.  But it also had excessive detail about some things that seem inconsequential, although I can’t think of a specific example right now.  Anyway, it should have been a quick read, but it seemed to drag on and on until I finally reached the last page.  The ending almost redeemed this book, and I wonder if the “vagueness” was intentional, given the “big reveal”, so I have mixed feelings about recommending this dystopian sci fi novel.  It was definitely worthwhile, given our obsession with social media, so give it a try if you are in the mood for a light sci fi read.

And I finished listening to an audiobook that had nothing to do with families called The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr, read by my favourite narrator, John Lee.  This novel is set in Germany in 1938, where there is a serial killer targeting young German girls who embody Aryan traits.  Former Police Detective-turned-Private Investigator Bernhard “Bernie” Gunther is contacted by Frau Lange to find out who is blackmailing her son, Reinhardt, over some love letters he sent to his lover, psychotherapist Dr Kindermann.  She also wants to get all the letters back, then let her son decide what to do with them.  Of course, being homosexual in Nazi Germany is a serious crime, and Frau Lange is worried about her son.  Bernie asks his partner, Bruno, to keep watch on a suspect’s house, but during this stakeout, he is killed and the suspect is found hanged in his apartment.  Bernie is then called back to the police force to help out in the search for the serial sex killer who is murdering young blond blue-eyed girls in Berlin.  He has no choice but to join the investigation and is given a team of officers to help him out.  This investigation takes him to Nuremberg, then to a seance in Berlin, all in an effort to uncover the truth.  What he discovers is a complex conspiracy involving members of the SS who may just get away with murder.  I only chose this book because of the narrator, but it was really interesting, with enough details and plot twists to keep me hanging on until the end, when, of course, all is revealed.  I just found out that this is the second in the Berlin Noir Trilogy by Kerr, so I will check to see if the other two are available for download.  

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the last day of the long weekend!

Bye for now…

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