Shelf Control #123: American Pacifica by Anna North

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: American Pacifica
Author: Anna North
Published: 2011
Length: 294 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

America Pacifica is an island hundreds of miles off the coast of California, the only warm place left in a world in the grip of a new ice age. Darcy Pern is seventeen; her mother has gone missing, and she must uncover the truth about her disappearance–a quest that soon becomes an investigation into the disturbing origins of America Pacifica itself and its sinister and reclusive leader, a man known only as Tyson. America Pacifica invites comparison to the work of Margaret Atwood and China Mieville, to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for its the touching child-parent relationship, and to Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy for its implacable, determined central character.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy sometime in the year or so after the book’s release.

Why I want to read it:

I stumbled across a review for this book soon after the publication date, back in 2011, and something about the description of the story stayed in my head. Maybe at that point I hadn’t read quite so many end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stories, but the synopsis sounded really intriguing, and made me want to learn more about the community and its leader. Even though this book has been on my shelves for way too may years, I’ve never been able to bring myself to donate it or give it away. I will read it one of these days!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
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Have fun!

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

My Thoughts:

The Power won the Bailey Women’s Prize for Fiction for 2017. It’s a fascinating book. What would happen to our world if the power structure were suddenly flipped upside down? When women develop the power to inflict pain by channeling electricity from a newly developed physical anomaly, the rules and customs of society change rapidly, with men finding themselves on the receiving end of restrictive laws, sexual violence, and lack of political power.

The book is structured as a book-within-a-book, as a male writer many years in the future writes a novel imagining how this transition came about. As the letters between him and his editor make clear, his work is so far-fetched (in describing a male-dominated society) that’s it’s practically unimaginable. It’s an interesting take on a very different world order, positing a world that’s been run and controlled by females for thousands of years, so that a scenario with men in power — soldiers, police, political leaders — seems like fantasy.

Of course, it’s disturbing to think that physical power is the determining factor in how society is formed and structured. There’s no middle ground. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that a society of equals might be the result? In The Power, the world belongs to the strong — and with absolute power comes the corruption, abuses, and excesses that seem to inevitably grow out of a lopsided power relationship.

I couldn’t put this book down, and found the ending pretty shocking. I did wish to see through a wider lens at time — the focus on the main characters started to feel restrictive further into the story, and I would have liked to see how other parts of the world, especially more progressive urban or cultural centers, might have responded and developed as a result of the shift in power between genders. Still, it’s a totally absorbing book, and one that would be great food for discussion.

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The details:

Title: The Power
Author: Naomi Alderman
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: US release date: October 10, 2017 (published in UK in 2016)
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: PurchasedSave

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Hippos Go Berserk! The weird and wonderful River of Teeth books by Sarah Gailey

FERAL. HIPPOS. IN THE MISSISSIPPI.

What more do you need to know?

In the two River of Teeth novellas, author Sarah Gailey takes us on a tour of the Wild South of an alternate United States, and it’s a crazy good time.

In River of Teeth, we learn that the United States Congress, in the mid-1850s, considered importing hippos as a solution to a national meat shortage. True story! In real life, the proposal never went anywhere, but in River of Teeth, the Hippo Act of 1857 is just the beginning of decades-long development of hippo ranches in the marshes and bayous of the South.

Hippo cowboys are called hoppers. Some hippos are bred for their meat, and others are bred to be fast and loyal mounts for their hoppers, who ride them on kneeling saddles, brush their teeth at night, and make sure they’re never too far from a body of water to swim in.

Meanwhile, a bunch of hippos that escaped from a ranch early on have reproduced and gotten fiercer than ever, and now form the great bunch of feral hippos who terrorize the Harriet, the dammed lake that once was a passage of the Mississippi.

Got all that? That’s really all just backstory to the main event. In River of Teeth, a hopper named Winslow Houndstooth brings together a gang of hired guns (and knives) — mostly outlaws — to carry out an operation (most definitely not a caper) aimed at restoring trade on the Mississippi. The group includes a pregnant Latina with a penchant for very sharp daggers, a large French woman who’s a skilled thief and tough in a fight, the nonbinary character Hero who’s an explosives expert, and slick/shady Cal, who just obviously shouldn’t be trusted. They go up against the riverboat gangster in chief who controls the Harriet and punishes card cheats by throwing them to the ferals, and there’s trickery and double-crossing galore.

Let’s just say that there are explosions and disasters, and things are left so up in the air that by the time Taste of Marrow begins, it’s no surprise that our gang is split up into two separate groups, each believing the other likely dead but unwilling to give up the search. Much of Taste of Marrow is devoted to looking for one another, but at the same time there’s a newborn baby, marshlands and rivers being overrun by the ferals now loose of their restrictions, and riverboats being chomped to shreds by said ferals. There’s also a romantic reunion worth the way, as well as a sensibility that’s fresh and in tune with women’s bodies in a way that’s utterly new in an adventure tale.

Okay, to be more specific, while on the hunt for her kidnapped infant, the tough-as-nails former assassin has to deal not only with the stress of evading the law and plotting her revenge, but with a raging breast infection that no doubt is due to clogged milk ducts after having her nursing baby taken from her. Egads, I cringed in sympathy whenever she accidentally brushed something against her painful breasts. Been there, done that, but not while riding a hippo. (Boy, don’t I feel wimpy now.)

These books are a delight, plain and simple. I mean, the premise is just crazy, right? How can you not love a “western” that features hippos? Where a popular song played on the saloon piano is “The Wild Pottamus Rag”? And these people take their hippos very, very seriously. They raise them from hops (baby hippos), talk to them, sing to them, and seem to practically mind-meld with their chosen hippos. The hippos are fast and dangerous, but also devoted and affectionate. And with names like Rosa and Ruby and Abigail and Betsy, how can you not adore them?

“It can’t be,” Hero breathed. They scrambled up, slipping in the wet clay, and ran to the edge of the paddock. They reached right through the half-rotted wood at the edge of the water and pressed both hands to the nose of the little Standard Grey hippo that was huffing bubbles into the water there.

“It had better be,” Adelia said, “or else you just grabbed a strange hippo by the face.”

The gender fluidity and lack of barriers in relationships is quite refreshing and delightful too. Hero’s preferred pronouns are they and them, and no one ever slips up or deviates or makes an issue of it. (As a reader, I did have to re-read a couple of paragraphs when there are group scenes, as I sometimes wasn’t sure on first pass whether the “they” was referring to the group or to Hero themselves. But all good — I sorted it out).

A recurring gag throughout both stories is that various character steel themselves to ask Hero a big question, or Hero braces themselves waiting for the inevitable question that they know is coming. We readers may assume the question will have something to do with gender — and it just never is, instead focusing on mundane matters or questions about explosives or the baby or really, anything else. It a fun moment to realize that we’re being set up over and over again, and it made me giggle.

Despite the relatively short lengths of the two novellas — each under 200 pages — the characters are quite distinct and well described, and it’s really a fun batch of personalities that we get to know and follow on their crazy adventures.

If you at all have a taste for alternate history, cowboy tales, or hippos — especially hippos! — read these novellas.

Meanwhile, since starting the stories, I simply haven’t been able to get this other book out of my mind — a children’s favorite that I must have read out loud to my kiddo at least 100 times or more.

I love these western hippos, who seem to fit the River of Teeth mood:

It’s a hippo party! Good times! Crazy fun!

Don’t believe me yet? Check out the whole book, here:

 

But enough with the kids’ book — you really do need to read River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow! Or I’ll sic this guy on you…

 

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River of Teeth, 121 pages
Taste of Marrow, 192 pages
Published by Tor, 2017

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Feral Hippos!

I don’t know why, but I’m ridiculously excited for the release of this new novella:

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey releases tomorrow (5/23/2017), and is an alternative history with a truly weird premise:

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

Sounds crazy, right?

I can’t wait for this to hit my Kindle tomorrow. Stay tuned for my reaction once I get to read the darn thing!

Take A Peek Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Man in the High Castle

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.

My Thoughts:

The world created by Philip K. Dick in The Man in the High Castle is fascinating, horrible, and mundane all at the same time. A lot of people just go about their daily lives, accepting the fact that the war has been won by the Axis powers and that the United States is now under Japanese and Nazi control.

I was inspired to read this book after watching the Amazon series. Call me shallow, but I enjoyed the series much more. Maybe I just didn’t get the book. There’s also the letdown factor, as the plotlines are dramatically different than what I’d already seen (for example, New York isn’t ever shown here and there’s no John Smith). Also, it’s quite a different thing to have a bootleg novel in circulation speculating on a different outcome from the war, as happens in the book, versus newsreel footage on film showing an Allied victory, as in the TV show.

There are some thought-provoking elements here, mainly about how easily people adapt to going along with whatever the governing principles say they need to do. The average people in San Francisco aren’t in active rebellion; they accept their world and focus on functioning within it. Another concept is the factor of “historicity” — does an object have value in and of itself, or does value come from knowing the history of it? Intriguing subplots revolve around the Japanese fascination with American historical artifacts and the odd way in which the Americans are complicit in cannibalizing their own pasts. Additionally, the speech of the characters is oddly choppy, with awkward vocabulary usage and phrasing, as if the Americans have become so deeply subserviant to Japanese rule that they’ve even adapted the Japanese style of speaking English.

I’ll be honest and say that I think a lot of the meaning of this book may have gone right over my head. Then again, the incessant references to the I Ching drove me a bit batty, and some of the ways in which the Nazis have changed and destroyed the world seem just too far-fetched. Not the atrocities which, tragically, are quite believable, but things like draining the Mediterranean and turning it into farmland.

I think I’d need to put a lot more thought and effort into puzzling out the layers of this book in order to fully appreciate it, and I’m afraid that I’m just not willing to put in the work to do so. This book isn’t dull, and parts are truly fascinating. It’s not a simple read, and not one that I’d likely recommend to anyone looking for casual entertainment, but for those who enjoy speculative fiction that requires effort on the part of the reader, it’s likely to be a rewarding read.

For my thoughts on the Amazon series of The Man in the High Castle, check out my post here.

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The details:

Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Publisher: Vintage
Publication date: 1962
Length: 259 pages
Genre: Speculative/science fiction
Source: Purchased