Friday, February 17, 2006

Triple Book Reviews! "Snow Crash", "A Tourist's Guide to Glengarry", and "The Penelopiad"!

Wow, have I started reading faster or have the books just gotten smaller? I finished "Snow Crash", then devoured "Glengarry" and "Penelopiad" before I had another chance to update my blog! Anyhoo, here's the scoop - I will go into detail about why I liked/disliked these books, but not much else. Both "Snow Crash" and "Penelopiad" are the subjects for my University essays.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson:

This book was absorbing right from the very start, because it threw me right into a world both alarming and hilarious at once. Our hero/protagonist, helpfully named Hiro Protagonist, is a pizza-delivery boy who likes carrying (and frequently using) a pair of Japanese swords. Of course, in the future, all the pizza places are owned by the Mafia, and delivering the pizza under 30 minutes is such a sacred act that one has to study at Pizza Universities, and the failure to meet the 30-minute mark can result in class-action lawsuits, general embarassment, and the firing and possible death of the deliverer.

Anyhoo, Hiro, who only delivers pizza to support his freelance hacker job, due to car trouble nearly misses his deadline, and has to have his life saved and pizza delivered by a spunky teenage Kourier named Y.T. (short for Yours Truly). Of course, now their fates are intertwined, and things begin to get ugly when Hiro discovers that someone's devised a virus specially designed to fry the brains of hackers.

The entire world as we know it is gone in Snow Crash. There are no rules, no governments (except for the tiny United States of America, which is really just a bunch of deluded bureaucrats who like to pretend that rules and goverments still exist), and everything, from churchs (purchase salvation at your local Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates franchise!), to freeways (intersections are hotspots for copyright infringements), to the police (take your pick: MetaCops or Enforcers Inc?), have been turned into money-making franchises! The world is OWNED by capitalism, warping public morality to such an extent that it makes the Mafia look like a wholesome family-run community service industry.

I was swallowed whole by the setting, and fully engaged by the characters, but the ending did leave a few, okay a lot, of loose ends that I hope will be explained away when we discuss it in class. By the way - I've officially finished ALL my reading for this semester. Have I mentioned that? This story was technical without being confusing, with a hint of mysticism and linguistics thrown in. I had to seriously think about the issues and ideas brought up by the novel (such as: the idea of information as virus that affects and changes the brain), and while I never had all of my questions answered, the book never made me feel stupid for not figuring everything out, and that's aces in my book.

A Tourist's Guide to Glengarry, by Ian Mcgillis

Now, while I was sucked into Snow Crash because of its bizarre, fantasic setting, I was drawn to Tourist's Guide because of the very opposite. It's set in Edmonton in the 1970s, and Edmonton is a city I know very well, and know equally well that it doesn't often get to be a setting in the books I read. A lot of the vernacular and scenic references that the 9-year-old protagonist uses are ones that I understand implicitly.

For instance, I've been to the downtown public library when the Children's section was still in the basement, and I remember Iggy the Iguana (although he must have been really old if he was the same iguana Neil saw in the '70s). I've always used the word crazy carpet for the thin sheets of plastic (with handles for us to hold on to cut at one end) that I used to slide down snowy hills with, but I've never read that term used in any book before Tourist's Guide. Despite the difference in time, I empathized and understood Neil.

Neil expresses a desire to be a writer, and his substitute teacher suggests that he start by writing everything that happens in one day. And a lot happens - although not all during that day. He leads us through the morning and each and every class he takes at school, but he frequently pauses to go into flashbacks and memories and weird little tidbits that come into his head. So in the course of one day, he succeeds in outlining the wheels and gears that turn his world.

The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood

I finished reading this book in one day, and was surprisingly short. Also, I was expecting it to be a story of how Penelope got through the years when Odysseus was away, and I was also expecting Penelope to be the focal point of the story. I was wrong on both counts. We go over pretty much the same points in time as The Odyssey does, only from Penelope's point of view. To be fair, there might not have been a great deal of exciting things happening over the twenty years she lived on a rocky island with goats and a baby boy. However, the point of this story seemed to be more on her twelve maids - in The Odyssey, once Odysseus is finished killing the suitors, he hangs the twelve maids who'd been sleeping with them and insulting his family. The Penelopiad serves as an explanation as to what really happened, as well as the consequences of their murders. It was actually rather dull, and anti-climactic, but maybe my expectations were too high. Atwood gives Penelope a wonderfully wry tone, and manages to reconcile how she can be a strong, intelligent woman and a worrying crybaby at the same time.

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