Sunday, 17 April 2016

Books and tea on a delightfully Springy morning...

I’m listening to the birdsong through the open windows this morning as I sip my chai tea and think about books.  I’m using a new mug today, one I bought from that pottery place in St Jacob’s where I got my original “Sunday morning chai tea” mug.  This one is large and meant for soup, but I couldn’t wait to try it out!

I’m not quite finished a new book by Canadian sci-fic author, award-winning Robert J Sawyer called Quantum Night.  This fast-paced page-turner tells the story of Professor Jim Marchuk, a psychologist who has developed the perfect test indicating the psychopathy that is lurking everywhere in society.  When he is called to be an expert witness at the trial of a murderer in the southern United States, he is shocked to learn that not only was extreme violence practiced by a not-too-distant relative, but that he has a period of missing memory, about six months, during his university days.  His search for this missing time leads him to discover that he was part of a top-secret experiment for the US Department of Defense and experienced adverse reactions to the testing which not only caused him to lose any memory of that time, but to also exhibit a totally different personality, a much more violent one.  When he reconnects with Kayla, an old girlfriend from this missing time, he discovers that there are three distinct types of personalities, based on an individual’s quantum superposition (whatever that means!  he did explain it fully in the book, but I didn’t fully understand it even at the time of reading, and now it’s days later).  These personalities are Q1 - philosopher’s zombies or “p-zeds”, Q2 - psychopaths, and Q3 - fully functioning individuals, with a conscience, and Kayla’s team have created a test that can accurately identify these personality types. There is the added discovery of a tool that can change a person’s superposition (thanks for the nod to the Perimeter Institute, Robert!).  With the ability to determine which individuals would be most likely to follow instructions, and the ability also to change people’s personalities, Sawyer explores many moral and ethical scenarios that are set in the very-near future, but so realistic is his portrayal of these scenarios that he’s got this reader wondering if these are possibilities that exist right now!  I’m not finished the book yet, and so, with more than a third of the book left to read (last week was super-busy), I can’t really comment on the novel as a whole, but it’s definitely got me thinking about how consciously I’m engaging in my life, and wondering if I’m a p-zed, just wandering through life, following routines and not really thinking consciously about my life and the things around me.  I like to think that I have a “rich inner life” and that I can “think outside the box”, but look at how easily we fall back on clichés.  It’s so far a really thought-provoking novel, and a fast-paced thriller that is keeping me interested to reach the final page.  I’m not always thrilled with the way he uses the novel as an opportunity for “product placement” (he clearly loves Apple products!), nor do I enjoy the parts where the author is so obviously using the book to get on his soapbox; not that the issues he’s addressing are unimportant, just that he could have done it in a subtler way that made me feel as though he believes his readers have enough intelligence to understand what he’s saying.  I felt that much of the book was like this, that he “dumbed it down” so everyone would understand.  I guess this is so that his book would have wider appeal, not just to sci-fi readers, but to readers of any genre.  I also don’t know exactly what the book is really about, what the main story is.  There are so many storylines that seem underdeveloped that I’m curious if the real point to the story, the main plot, will become apparent in the last third.  I’ll let you know next week what my rating would be, but for now, I would recommend it to just about anyone, as it’s a fast-paced, easy read that is also very thought-provoking.  

And I finally finished listening to Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil, once again narrated by Robert Glenister.  This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series and it was just about as good as the first one, which was awesome, and significantly better than the second one, which was not very good, in my opinion.   Glenister is the narrator for all three books, which is great, as he’s got the characters’ personalities and voices down pat.  This novel begins with Robin frantically arranging for her upcoming wedding.  Having completed the surveillance course recommended by Strike, she is now getting out of the office more and working longer hours, even on weekends, with no pay increase, which is something fiancé Matthew is not thrilled about.  She is finding that it’s easier to receive personal deliveries at work rather than at home, so when a box shows up one morning, she readily signs for it, thinking her wedding favours have arrived.  Inside the office, she is shocked to find that the box contains not disposable cameras, but a woman’s severed leg.  Strike contacts Wardle, the police detective least vexed by Strike’s triumph over the police in the second book, Silkworm, and informs him that he believes the leg was meant for him, not Robin, as the card included with the leg contained the quotation from the Blue Oyster Cult song, Mistress of the Salmon Salt, that Strike’s mother had tattooed on her lower abdomen.  References to Blue Oyster Cult songs lead into most chapters and sections of the book, as the killer is obsessed with this classic rock band.  Strike puts forth three likely candidates as suspects, men from his past who would want to ruin his business and who would also be capable of such cold-blooded acts as sending severed body parts to him via courier.  The police, not surprisingly, don’t really listen to his suggestions, and follow their own leads.  Strike, then, is forced to investigate on his own.  Despite Strike’s protestations that he wants Robin to follow specific safety precautions, she persists in conducting her own lines of inquiry with these suspects, particularly paedophile Noel Brockbank, while also taking an active role in assisting Strike in his own investigations.  These investigations leads them all over the country, digging into the pasts and searching for the current whereabouts for these unsavoury suspects.  Robin, meanwhile, is conflicted about marrying Matthew, and her attraction to Strike simmers just below the surface, feelings which are reciprocated by Strike.  Of course, it is a complex plot with plenty of nasty characters, and the sexual tension between Robin and Strike is ever-present, which in my opinion somewhat detracts from the story rather than adding to it.  And the ending, which I was so anticipating, felt rather flat and rushed, and left many things unresolved. Still, it was overall a great listening experience.  If you enjoyed the first two in this series, I’m sure you will enjoy this one, too.  I’d give the first book, Cuckoo’s Calling a 10 out of 10, the second, Silkworm, a 7 out of 10, and this third a 9.  It needs no additional promotion, as I'm sure this series has a huge fan following.  I wonder why, now that everyone knows who is really writing these novels, Rowling continues to publish under the pseudonym Galbraith?  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the beautiful Spring weather!

Bye for now…
Julie

PS Don't forget the big CFUW Annual Book Sale next weekend: http://cfuwkw.org/index.php?page=annual-used-book-sale

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