2016 in Books | June

I’m now halfway through my 2016 reading challenge – I’ve read 15 of 30 books, yay! I only managed to read one book in June, but I’m really making my way through the sci-fi classics this year – it was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which inspired Blade Runner.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick ★★★★☆

7082I have been meaning to read Androids since doing a module on dystopian fiction in high school, but for some reason didn’t get round to it. I watched Blade Runner a few months ago which gave me a push to finally read it.

Firstly I want to get all book-film comparisons out of the way and just say that the book does differ quite radically in tone and plot from Blade Runner. The most notable difference for me when reading was…what the heck is with the characters’ obsessions with animals?!

Of course, the answer is obvious – the humans cling to their connection and ability to care for pets as a symbol of their humanity. Androids can’t look after pets, they simply don’t have the motivation or capacity. So having an animal (even one as obscure as the titular sheep, or emu) proves you’re not an android, basically. I found it pretty comical though; I think it’s because Rick Deckard is ultra-masculine, detached, unfeeling, yet pines after ownership of owls and other quite twee pets? Maybe this is because I code love of animals as childish or feminine – and to be honest that’s not very feminist of me. It just seemed bizarrely amusing when reading.

On the subject of Deckard and feminism – wow. He does not act kindly to the significant women in his life. However, I was glad to see a distinction in the book with the sex scene with Rachael – in the film it’s very uncomfortable and I viewed it as basically a rape scene. However, in the book both parties consent, and Deckard is kind of played and outsmarted by Rachael later on. Hell yeah.

(Going back to the point about Deckard and animals – he doesn’t seem to actually want to care for the pet, he just wants it as a status symbol – I think this lends itself to the ambiguous Is Deckard a Replicant conspiracy! I’m going to read up about that, because theoretically it’s quite possible… I like that Dick keeps it open though.)

Generally I really enjoyed Androids; the characterisation was good and so was the plot and pacing. I would read more of Dick’s work. I think he is great at immersing the reader in the very classic science-fiction-y world he sculpts, and in this book he did what good sci-fi needs: called up the bigger questions; about humanity, kindness, and intelligence.

 

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2016 in Books | March

I read three books this month: incidentally, two lesbian novels: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, and Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (sapphically suggestive titles all round…) as well as a science-fiction classic, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters ★★★★☆

fingersmith.jpg
Still from the BBC miniseries, which I need to watch!

This is a long-un but it’s a good-un. It’s a drawn out, twisted lesbian novel set in the 19th century, the story focusing around two 17 year old girls, one who becomes the other’s maid under false pretences, as part of a larger plot to steal the other’s fortune. The beginning is
slightly slow, and all a bit Oliver Twist, which isn’t really my taste. However, it slowly builds up to the end of part one where there is a shocking twist – and I mean shocking. From that point on it becomes darker and more complicated, and I couldn’t stop reading. It’s all about betrayal, trust, unreliable narratives and second guessing your original thoughts. The narrative is not realistic…but if you’re looking for escapism I think Waters sets the tone and paces the book really well. Persevere through part one, it is worth it!

If you’re looking for a classic lesbian romance, this might not be the book for you; it doesn’t really focus on the characters’ identities, and their relationship is mostly overshadowed by the wider narrative arch. However, I liked it and made me want to read more of Sarah Waters – I have put Tipping the Velvet on my to-read list.

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown ★★★★★

165395I loved this book! I read it in two sittings, on the train to and from Newcastle to London. Really easy to read. The protagonist and narrator is Molly, and we follow her from tomboy childhood to early adulthood, and her adventures on the East Coast of the USA. I thought it was an accurate and relatable depiction of queer female sexuality, the growth of it, and how it is tied up with identity. I actually found it pretty empowering. A lesbian book where the lesbian is not a victim! Or dies at the end! She is self-sufficient and happy! There is an uplifting ending!

It is definitely a coming-of-age novel, and I like that. It’s funnily written, and I would totally recommend it to any lesbian, bi, or pan women. Actually, any women I think would enjoy it – it’s really accessible fiction about queer sexuality, friendship, and growing up.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem ★★★★☆

Wow. This was intense. I actually felt quite unsettled a lot of the time while reading this. I knew about the premise of the book before reading it; a man travels to a space station orbiting an ocean planet called Solaris, only to find that flesh-and-blood replicas of his dead wife keep reappearing. The protagonist, Kelvin, is a psychologist, sent to the station to analyse the other members of the team, who are suffering from the same affliction, which he initially assumes to be hallucinations. After proving to himself that he is in fact not in a dream nor hallucination through complex calculations, he and the other members of the crew have to work out what to do about the figures from their respective pasts who have appeared on the ship.

What I didn’t know was how Lem creates this concept of the alien which I’d never considered; the oceanic surface is in fact some kind of life form, and humanity attempts to ‘make contact’ with it over a number of years. However, its responses seem unreliable, and its true nature remains elusive. Is it conscious, sentient, intelligent? Is it similar to a gigantic amoeba, or is it more like a multi-celled fluid creature? Is it a god? The difference between the ocean and any form of life we recognise on Earth is vast; Lem made me reconsider the commonly assumed idea of an alien being some variation of plant or animal.

Solaris definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test; the only female character who speaks is Rheya, the reincarnation of Kelvin’s deceased wife. For the most part, she is vulnerable, confused and dependent. However, from a male author in the 1960s, it could be worse. Lem is no Ursula Le Guin when it comes to progressive attitudes to gender, but I didn’t have a massive problem with the book. Overall I found it an intense and compelling read, very original and a great work of sci-fi.

Some book covers from the 60s which I really like – much cooler than my George Clooney film edition!