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The Silver Metal Plot Hole; or, Review: Kalahari

Kalahari by Jessica Khoury

3 of 5 stars

Jessica Khoury is one of the better YA writers out there; her books have a strong science fiction focus and take place in unusual and well-fleshed-out settings. (I was also going to say that she doesn't write trilogies, but I discovered this book is third in a loose trilogy, dealing with the same secretive, shady corporation. I haven't read the second book at all, and it's been a while since I read Origin, long enough that I'd completely forgotten about Corpus.) Just as her fantastic treatment of the Amazonian rainforest in Origin, here the Kalahari desert comes alive, from the sounds of the birds to the snakes and scorpions in the grass, from digging up edible roots to bringing down guinea fowl with a sort of primitive boomerang, to facing down a young bull elephant in rut and wriggling into a warthog's burrow.

Spoilers BewareCollapse )

There is a lot to like about this book, and I'm glad I read it. I can for the most part gloss over the plot deficiencies (the fact that I didn't throw the book against the wall is proof of that), but of course others' mileage may vary.
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"Sexism is the foundation on which all tyranny is built"--Review, Everyday Sexism

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

4 of 5 stars

I think this little book should be read by everyone, and it definitely should be taught in high schools and college. It proves that feminism is still needed, and anyone who tells you we live in a "post-feminist" society is simply full of it. The book began life as the Everyday Sexism Project, a website where women could post their stories and lived experiences. According to the book's frontpage, the site has now collected more than 100,000 testimonials from people around the world.

One of the most heartbreaking chapters, to me, is Chapter 3, entitled "Girls." The first three pages detail stories of sexism from literally every year of a young woman's life, from birth to 18.

My father's reaction when he learned I was a baby girl: "They are twins, and girls to boot!?"

My mom told me repeatedly that men won't like me because I was too opinionated...it started when I was 3.

Aged 5, man leaned over the garden wall where I was playing, asked me to twirl so he could see my knickers.

6 years old, as a bridesmaid, took my cardigan off at the reception and got WOLF WHISTLES from adult men nearby. Straight back on.

Being told by age 9 that getting catcalled, whistled, honked at were to be taken as compliments.

Age 12, at KFC, some guy hands me a note with crap handwriting, but reads pretty much as "I want to fook you."

Told I was pretty and then asked my age. Said I was 14 and he asked me to sit on his lap.

Men shouted at me from their car "get your tits out you fucking slag." I was 15.

Working in a bar aged 18, collecting glasses, man waits until both my hands are full then grabs my boobs from behind.

These stories, and many many more, show that sexism runs through a woman's life from birth to death, whether she's married or single, a housewife or a career woman, a mother or childfree. (Also, for those who ask "what about the men?" there's a chapter on them too.) The sheer number of reports can be overwhelming, which is why it took me over a week to finish this book. However, the final chapter, Chapter 12, "People Standing Up," gives reason for hope and urges people to, as the author says, keep "moving small stones to redirect the flow of the river."

True equality can be achieved, and it will. Books like these are invaluable to show us the way.
one more chapter

"And There Were Giants in the Earth"; Review: Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

4 of 5 stars

I think this is one of those books people will either love or hate. I really liked it, but it's not for everybody. The reason for that is simple: this is not a conventional narrative structure at all. Aside from the prologue and a few journal entries, it's told entirely in the form of transcribed interviews, with a lean, stripped-down journalistic style. You certainly won't have to worry about any purple prose in this book.

This could get quite annoying if we had a massive cast of characters, a la World War Z. Fortunately, the author concentrates on a basic core group, "interviewing" them again and again. And in any case, it soon becomes clear that the interviewees, as important as they are to the story, are not the protagonists; it's the nameless, faceless interviewer, evidently a current or former CIA agent, who is the actual driver of the tale. He is the shadowy background lurker who sets many of the events in motion and cracks the whip, following in the footsteps of the X-Files' Cigarette Smoking Man.

I read the prologue online before I bought the book, so to recap without too many spoilers: At the age of eleven, Rose Franklin is taking her brand-new bicycle for a ride into the woods when she spots an odd turquoise glow. She goes to check it out and falls into a hole in the ground, where she finds...I'll just quote this from the prologue (and it's masterfully done, hooking the reader in just two pages):

It was about a week later that someone rang the doorbell. I called for my father to go, but I got no answer. I ran down the stairs and opened the door. It was one of the firemen that had gotten me out of the hole. He'd taken some pictures and thought I would like to see them. He was right. There I was, a tiny little thing at the bottom of the hole, lying on my back in the palm of a giant metal hand.

And with that, we're off to the races.

The rest of the book is the story of this discovery, and what it means for humanity. Rose Franklin returns seventeen years later, in possession of a Ph.D. and a burning desire to solve this globe-spanning mystery. The other core characters (besides the "CIA Spook" interviewer) include a blunt, badass, bad-tempered female helicopter pilot, a whitebread Army brat, and a language nerd. (These last two are male, which sets up an unfortunate love triangle that, in my mind, distracts from the overall storyline. Although I can understand why the author included it, because it generates a very important plot twist. Still, I wish he could have found some other way to get from point A to point B.)

There is an impressive level of craft involved in this, the author's first novel. Due to its format, there are almost no descriptions of any kind; the settings and characterizations are revealed entirely through the back-and-forth conversations of the interviews. This even carries over to the climax, which is the transcription of a frantic satellite phone call in the middle of a firefight. You would never think such a thing could work, but it absolutely does. This book is a fast and gripping read, with plenty to make the reader think after the last page is turned.
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