WANT TO LIVE FOREVER? MAYBE NOT

The desire to live forever is a deep rooted one, and there have been all kinds of stories and books about how that might be accomplished, from myths and fables to novels and movies. The newest effort to imagine how someone might be able to cheat death is Stanley Bing’s Immortal Life: A Soon to Be True Story.

Set in the not-too-distant future, the book focuses on one Arthur Vogel, a trillionaire tech giant whose empire ranges all the way to Mars, and who’s already extended his life, through various means, to 127 years.  Now even those methods aren’t working anymore and his body is fading, but still Arthur’s not ready to let go.  His newest plan is to transfer his consciousness, his self, into a new, young body.  That body, Gene, has been specifically created for the purpose of extending Arthur’s life.  The only problem (and you know there has to be a problem) is that Gene is a person in his own right (at least in his own mind), and Gene does not want to be just the shell that houses Arthur’s consciousness for the rest of his days.

Once Arthur and Gene are joined (you didn’t think there was any possibility Gene would be able to prevent Arthur’s consciousness from being implanted in him, did you?), the battle begins. Arthur wants to take over the world by gaining control of the cloud into which all humanity is plugged, and Gene wants to free humanity from bondage to the cloud, to their virtual existence.  Two different personalities in the same body, fighting for control of the body and fighting for the control of the world: add this to a sly sense of humor and a satirical look at current trends in connectedness and in the growing gap between the super rich and the poor, taken to logical extremes, and you have an entertaining look at how immortality might be achieved (by the wealthy, at least) and whether it’s a good idea.  Come and check it out for yourself.

 

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THE MOTHER OF COMPUTERS: ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS

If you had to guess what would happen to Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of the infamous Lord Byron, the romantic poet described as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”, you might well imagine that she became a poet, or a notorious libertine (like her famous father), or that she reacted against her father’s life and disappeared into the silence of history. Almost certainly you would not guess that she grew up to be an outstanding mathematician, in an era when women were actively discouraged from obtaining higher education at all, let alone learning math, or that she collaborated with Charles Babbage in the invention of the computer.  But in fact, Ada Lovelace earned her fame (or deserved her fame) as a woman with a brilliant mathematical mind, not as the daughter of a wild and dissolute poet.  

How Ada turned into what it would not be an exaggeration to describe as the Mother of Computers is the story Jennifer Chiaverini tells in Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace.  Ada was fortunate that her mother was a rigorous mathematician in her own right, and a woman determined to protect her from Byron’s influence, and from any possibility that she might turn out to be like her father. That meant Ada was given tutoring in science and math as she was growing up, and kept away from all pernicious subjects like poetry and literature.  When she entered London society, Ada met the man who would shape the rest of her life, Charles Babbage, who had already built a prototype of his calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and was working on a more complicated and powerful machine, the Analytic Engine.  Ada joined his efforts, determined to help him change the world, and at the same time she pursued her own mathematical studies, fell in love, learned more about her parents’ tempestuous relationship and developed her own fierce imagination.

You don’t have to be a computer nut or a geek to appreciate the world of the 19th century that gave birth to the first computers. You don’t have to be a feminist to appreciate the strength of character that it took for a woman to study math and make a name for herself in the world of science in the 19th century.  But if you’re interested in a fun historical novel that will bring that whole world to life, filled with larger than life characters, by all means check out Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace.

TWO NEW TAKES ON THE END OF THE WORLD

What’s up with all the dystopian novels this year?  Not only people like Stephen King (and let’s face it, you expect Stephen King to come up with dark views of the world), but writers who are not known for writing dystopias are coming out with their own versions.  Cases in point: both Louise Erdrich and Nora Roberts have new books out which deal with the end of the world as we know it.

Future Home of the Living God is not your typical Louise Erdrich book.  Instead of writing about the present (as in The Round House or A Plague of Doves or LaRose), she sets this book in the near, but undetermined, future, and instead of writing about issues of revenge and justice, she’s writing about issues of reproductive freedom and repression (though, to be fair, those issues are related to her usual concerns).  The cataclysm in this case is a massive biological disaster that’s causing women to give birth to increasingly primitive versions of human beings, and in the wake of this “reverse evolution”, society begins to fall apart.  The protagonist, Cedar Hawk Songmaker, was adopted in infancy by a loving Minnesota couple, but when she becomes pregnant (with all the stories of disastrous pregnancies and government attempts to confine and monitor pregnant women), she sets out to find her birth mother, an Ojibwe woman living on a reservation.  All around Cedar, the world is falling apart: her adoptive parents disappear without a trace, families are torn apart, pregnant women are being required to register and rewards are offered for people turning in recalcitrant mothers-to-be.  With the end of humanity in sight, Cedar has to take extraordinary measures to keep herself and her baby safe.

Nora Roberts turns her hand to the end of the world as well in her newest book, Year One. In this case, a disease wiped out half of humanity, and all the usual structures of society failed as well: the electrical grid sputtered, governments collapsed, science and technology no longer worked as they had in the past.  In the new chaos, magick arises, both in the form of witchcraft practiced by Lana Bingham, living with her lover in a loft in a wrecked New York City, and in more sinister forms of power which can lurk anywhere.  Lara and her lover leave New York and head west, along with a disparate group of other survivors: a tech genius living in a non-digital world, a former journalist who no longer has an audience or a medium, a doctor and a paramedic and the woman and children in their care.  Those who are immune to the disease are considered dangerous, and those who show abnormal gifts are also considered dangerous, so this small group is doubly at risk, from what remains of authority and from those who have acquired powers they’re using for evil rather than good.  Warning: this is the first book in a trilogy.  While Nora Roberts is good about finishing her multiple book sets, those who want to follow my rule of thumb about multiple book series (i.e., don’t start them until the last one has come out) might want to wait for the rest of the series. Otherwise, if you’re a Nora Roberts fan, you’ll find plenty to enjoy (in a dark way) in Year One.

2017 GOODREADS TOP FICTION CHOICES AT THE FIELD

Well, it’s December, and aside from the holiday season, it’s the time of year when everybody’s busy compiling their Best of the Year lists. Every year, Goodreads.com has a Readers Choice vote where millions of readers cast their votes in different categories for the best books in a variety of categories. This year, some 3,887,000 votes were cast, and you’ll be delighted to know that here at the Field Library we have the winning books in most of the fiction categories  Come to the Field Library and check the books Goodreads readers have chosen as the best of 2017.

In the general category of fiction, the winner is Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. A character-driven novel about families and expectations, about the gaps between planned lives and what actually happens.  Elena Richardson is a by-the-rules person who rents a house to Mia Warren, a free-spirited and fairly poor artist.  The Richardson children mingle with Mia’s daughter, the Richardson kids yearning for the kind of freedom that Pearl Warren has, and Pearl longing for the stability and material world the Richardsons have. When a friend of Mia’s changes her mind about giving up a baby for adoption and the would-be adoptive parents, friends of Elena Richardson, fight to keep the child, the rifts between the families and within the town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, are exposed, with shattering results.

The best mystery and thriller, narrowly edging out Dan Brown’s Origin, is Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.  I’ve already written about Into the Water here. Suffice it to say the book is twisty and complicated, a murder mystery that turns on the twisted history of characters who know each other too well and keep too many secrets.

The winner in the category of Historical Fiction is a book we can’t keep on our shelves, Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, a book that turns on the terrible actions and abuses of a real-life orphanage and adoption scam in the 1930’s, and the long-lasting scars on individuals and families from those nightmares.  I wrote about it here

Without Merit, by Colleen Hoover, won this year’s vote for best romance. The protagonist lives in one of the most colorfully dysfunctional families in literature (her stepmother and mother live in the same house, which actually was a converted church, and that’s not even all of the weird stuff going on with her family), and has her own little quirks, like buying used trophies and pretending they were given to her. When she meets a young man who just might be The One, wouldn’t it just turn out that he’s her identical twin’s boyfriend?  Finally she decides to blow up all the family’s secrets just before she escapes from them for good, but when the escape plan fails, she’s left with the consequences of her truth-telling, even if those consequences mean losing the only guy she’s ever loved.

It’s not surprising that Andy Weir’s second novel, Artemis, is this year’s Goodreads winner in the category of science fiction. After the mind-boggling success of his first book, The Martian, Weir had a built-in audience for whatever science fiction he chose to write next, and he surprised and delighted audiences with his heist-on-the-moon book, Artemis, which I wrote about here.

Nor is it terribly surprising that the winner for best horror of 2017 is Stephen King, though in this case he shares the award with his co-writer and son, Owen King, for Sleeping Beauties. A strange plague affects nearly all the women of the world: when they go to sleep, they’re covered in a gauze-like cocoon, and they don’t wake up on their own. In their sleep, they go to a different world, a place of harmony and peace.  If they’re disturbed or someone tries to break through the cocoon or awaken them, they become feral and violent.  One woman seems to be immune to the disease, but there’s a real question whether she’s a medical freak to be studied or a demon to be destroyed.  The all-male society falls into violence and chaos, as only Stephen King (and his sons) can portray.