Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I first heard of this book during my undergraduate studies and didn’t read it until the year after I’d finished my degree. Probably the most gruesome part of the book was “spoiled” for me, but it did not ruin the book in any way. Perhaps I was saved from the traumatic discovery. To put that into context, this book centers around a father and his son as they trudge across a post-apocalyptic landscape. The father’s goal is simply to keep his son alive. As they are traveling, other humans are basically the enemy, and the two come across some disturbing things.

Though it seems that there is an overabundance of post-apocalyptic shows and movies nowadays, this book came out (still fairly recently) in 2006 and the movie adaptation came out in 2009 (which I still haven’t seen yet). There are no zombies or plagues or supernatural or science fiction elements that turned the world to ruin in this book. There is no detail really as to why, but it could be assumed it is a nuclear fallout. The world they wander is dark. The skies are always overcast and bleak. Everything is coated in ash and cold. They survive by traveling in search of food and water. Outside of the people they encounter, the main story centers on their relationship with many references to the duty of a parent.

There was much criticism about this book in relation to the lack of women characters or treatment of them, especially the mother of the son since there isn’t much explanation as to what happens to her. I can understand that criticism but do not necessarily agree with it. The story would be drastically different if the mother was present. The narrative would have been split and the focus lost. I think most people would agree the book is great the way it is (despite the subject matter).

This book is a little bleak, but it is well-written and engaging even when it seems not much is happening. If you like post-apocalyptic and/or want a new/original take on the subject, then give this book a shot. I think this book delves into a semi-realistic view if our world should ever face the destruction by the bombs we have created (if anyone were to survive). The subject matter is dark, but it’s a book worth reading as it can make you think about what is really important in life. It can let you escape the trivial worries of your day-to-day and help you focus your thoughts on what really matters. That is where I think this book succeeds.

Nothing Lasts Forever

Immortality has been a dream weaved through the history of humanity. In the past, many tried to extend their lives with medicines or spent their faith believing in a religion that would grant immortality once they left the mortal plane. These were tossed aside as more tangible steps were taken in the forms of technology. Many believed the key to living forever was to abandon their bodies and welcome artificial constructs. Though this brought them closer to their goal, it was soon realized that technology alone was not the solution as a human mind deteriorated within the data centers that held them.

It was a biotech breakthrough that brought immortality truly within reach. Trost Industries was the first to discover a seamless integration of technology and biology. A way to fuse flesh and machine into one harmonious entity without biological rejection or deterioration. The first successful case was a mouse. It was alive for two years before a rabbit became the second success. They both lived on base nutrients in the form of pellets. Not enough to sustain a normal member of their species, but enough to provide the materials needed to continue the regeneration of the biological components within these hybrids.

Within a century, ninety percent of humans had welcomed the bio-integration. Many social conflicts disappeared. Healthcare all but disappeared. Food became abundant as the need for it decreased. All prejudice and hatred was veered toward those deemed too stubborn to accept the integration, but no violence was acted upon as those outside of time simply waited for those within it to simply pass away into the past.

But the integration did not grant true immortality. It prevented time from killing those who had accepted the fusion of man and machine, but it did not prevent the heinous act of a violent death. Man could still kill man. Though their bodies were much stronger and could walk away from plane crashes and the crushing depths of the ocean with little protection, they were not truly impervious to destruction.

Astin Trost, owner of Trost Industries, was found dead on his island anchored above the city formerly known as Menlo Park. The following is a transcription of the final forty-three minutes of his life.


 

The sun was nearing the horizon of clouds casting an orange glow as Trost stared down through broken patches to see the city below.

“So that’s it then? We’ve given life while taking it away?”

A miniature hologram his board of trustees hovered over the table behind him.

“There is no need to worry,” Matthew said, the oldest of the group who still maintained the physique of when he first made the transition at fifty-six years old. “A few may be upset once we break the news, but our sample groups indicate a vast majority won’t be bothered. No one will care if they can’t have kids anymore. They will live forever.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” Trost said quietly.

“Speak up, Astin,” Miriam told him in the maternal tone he loathed.

“I said I’m not so sure of that.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because people are still dying.”

“Only in the most extreme events,” Paul clarified.

“And only when the victim is left damaged longer than twenty-four hours,” Miriam added.

“The population if effectively stabilized,” Matthew said, “Which will stabilize economies and only increase the wealth of the individual. What we’ve done is create a utopia. No one will want for anything. If they truly want something, they can work until they have it. There is nothing out of their reach now.”

“Except building a family. A future.” Trost finally turned to face them. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the window.

“They are their own future. We no longer have pass on our lives to others. We can continue to live them ourselves.”

“What’s really bothering you about this Astin?” Miriam asked. The entire board looked at him expectantly.

“I’m starting to think we aren’t supposed to live forever,” he said.

“Nonsense.”

“Hold on,” Paul waved Jackson down, “What do you mean by that Astin?”

“Physically we can thanks to this company.”

“Thanks to you,” Matthew said.

“But mentally,” Trost continued, “I’m not sure the human mind can withstand it. Remember when they first mapped a human mind onto an android frame? The mind deteriorated within a few years.”

“So? That was due to the risk of transference. It was impossible to get one hundred percent accuracy. With biotech, the mind remains in its original state.”

“Yes, but humans have always been selfish creatures. I look out there and I don’t see everyone taking the time to sit down and talk to each other as they had in the past. Without families, there is nothing to stabilize the mind as it progresses beyond what was previously possible.”

“You’re worried about development?” Matthew asked. He was surprised to find Trost worried. “We can invest in academia to promote the pursuit of knowledge. Hasn’t that always been a cornerstone of human curiosity? Combined with our exploration investments dated to begin next month, I think we’ve already addressed your concerns.”

“Perhaps,” Trost said and turned back to the window, “but let’s keep researching the reproduction issue.”

“We’ve depleted all possibilities,” Miriam said. She caught her next words as Matthew signaled toward her. After a second motion, the holographic figures all stood and left the table leaving only Matthew behind.

“What’s really troubling you Astin?” he said.

“I’m pushing one hundred and eighty years old Matthew. The oldest man alive. They cheer me for it but believe me when I say something is wrong.”

“An imbalance? Come to the lab and we can get you looked at and corrected within the hour.”

“It’s not an imbalance. It’s an intuition. A feeling that something is out of place. I’m beginning to feel like ghost. Clinging to this world when I should be in the next.”

“You don’t believe that. There is nothing after this life. What you need is to get out more. Go see some friends. Go have some fun. You’ve been isolating yourself too much lately.”

“Perhaps you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right. Let’s meet up at Vixels. We haven’t been there in decades. It’ll be like the good old days. Yeah?”

Trost turned and rubbed his face. He looked at the hologram of Matthew and nodded.

“Good,” Matthew said, “I’ll see you at eight.”

The hologram disappeared entirely. Trost went to the small bar in his study and grabbed tumbler and a bottle of bourbon. He turned his toxin receptors to the max and the filters off. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be truly intoxicated. All it took was a few sips to get him there. He held the small tumbler in one hand and fiddled with the inputs with the other. He perused news reports, videos, social sites, and took in everything humanity had and was making of itself the last several decades.

He poured himself another drink and continued his search to find worth in what he had done. An answer to the question burning within him. He searched and searched and searched. Drinking all the while. Refusing to stop until he found that answer.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I read this book about a year ago. It was first recommended to me by a friend (thanks Fede) probably four or five years ago and I eventually got around to reading it. For some reason, it seems like the right time to be recommending this book. With everything that has happened recently and the topic of mental health in the news, along with my own history, I think I there are many reasons I’m recommending this book this week. This book does revolve around the taboo subject of suicide, which has made it a controversial book that has been banned in a few areas. Netflix has made an adaptation of this book as well. I haven’t seen it myself but hear it follows the book well but does change a few things as well as go beyond what is in the book.

Thirteen Reasons Why takes place after Hannah Baker commits suicide. The story itself follows Clay Jensen after he receives a set of tapes. These tapes were made by Hannah and detail the events that led up to her final decision. The story unfolds and I won’t say much more because you should read it yourself. Yes, the subject matter isn’t something anyone wants to talk about, but maybe this book can be a key to helping you understand why it shouldn’t be a topic to avoid simply because it makes you uneasy. I read this book in about two days. It’s quick, engaging, and thought provoking. I hope you can give it a shot.

This book can open discussions previously dismissed too often and too early. It also shows us how things can snowball out of control. It details how small things for one person can be large things to another. I believe it ultimately encourages us to be kind to each other. To open ourselves and improve communication. In the end, it left me with a more hopeful outlook. It didn’t leave me sad or wanting to be alone. It made me want to go see my friends and have a good time. To enjoy the life I have, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Happy Reading;

A New Path

The headstones were spread out in even rows. All of them the same ovular shape. Every one identical save for the names and dates written on them. The first time his mother took him the graveyard, Xander was four years old and frightened. He was scared because he’d heard ghosts guarded the stones on the hill. No one had seen them, but everyone agreed that it was true so he believed it.

He followed his mother with wide eyes and fast heart and gripped her hand tight not knowing the pain it caused her. The sickness was taking hold of her even then, but she didn’t say a word about it or the pain. Instead, she tried reassuring him that the ghost stories weren’t true, but the idea was already locked deep in his mind. His mother set the flowers in front of his Nana’s grave and began talking. Xander didn’t pay attention but anxiously waited for her to finish so they could leave.

A pair of eyes peeked out from behind the headstone. They stared at him and he stared back, breaking eye contact only to glance at his mother. A giggle echoed through the empty burial ground. His mother didn’t seem to notice any of it. She kept talking despite the young girl’s chin resting on his Nana’s gravestone. He glared at the girl.

“She can’t see me,” the young girl said, “but I can hear her. I’m happy to see you again young Xander.”

His heart fluttered within him and he grabbed at his mother’s arm. She paused long enough to tell him they would leave soon.

The young girl walked around and sat in front of the stone. She stared at him. The large smile never leaving her face.

“Xander dear. Don’t be frightened. It’s me, Nana.”

He almost let go of his mother’s arm and ran, but he was frozen.

“It’s okay. It’s a scary place, but it’s okay. Don’t speak, just listen.”

She told him stories every visit. He never spoke to her until he started visiting her alone when he was fifteen and his mother became too sick to leave the house. His job took up much of his time and he had to drop out of school, but he spent any spare afternoons at the graveyard asking Nana questions and listening to more of her stories. She was always there for him.

When he was sixteen, his Papa died. They buried him next to Nana. The next time Xander visited their graves he found two teenagers his own age. At first, he ignored them thinking they were visitors until Nana called his name. He sat in the grass with them for hours talking about the trouble they got into at his age. They prefaced each one with a warning not to do as they had done. He found himself laughing with them until the sky dimmed and the sun’s fading rays hit their faces like firelight. Then his Papa said, “Xander, my boy, it’s time for us to go.”

He stood. “I’ll come visit tomorrow.”

“No, little one,” his Nana said, “We are leaving.”

“What?”

“We can’t stay here. There are things we should have done a long time ago,” his Papa smiled.

“Do you know why we told you all of our stories?”

He hung his head, hiding his eyes. “I’ll never forget you.”

“We know, but that is not the reason,” Nana said.

“True,” his Papa placed a hand on his shoulder, “It is good to remember the past, but you must live your life. Leave your dreams with the living, do not bring them here as we have done.”

“But-”

“It’s okay,” a new voice said.

Xander looked over to see someone he’d only seen in a photograph and his whole world crumbled. She had long, black hair and hazel eyes. She was smiling as she approached. He fell to his knees when she got to him and she knelt down to hug him.

“It’s okay Xander,” his mother said in her teenage voice. They sat with each other as the sun disappeared from the horizon. Its last rays illuminating the clouds enough for him to see his mother as she once was. “They’re right,” she said lifting his chin, “It is time for all of us to leave this place. I won’t be an anchor to you any longer.”

“But mom…I can’t.”

“Of course you can. Let us be your guide.”

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This book has a lot going on and it all works in amazing ways. I strongly believe that time travel is a really hard topic to pull off because there are many opportunities for plot holes or for something to leave the audience unsatisfied about. Even popular movies that venture into that territory often falter. This book, and the movie based on it, do a great job of avoiding the many pitfalls surrounding the subject. Just as it is for the characters in the book, the time travel element seems second nature/a random event that is both problematic but sometimes good.

The premise is Henry DeTamble involuntarily travels through time at random moments. He first travels at a young age (around 4?). He can’t control it. Every time he travels, he doesn’t know where or when he will show up, but his clothes never go with him so he ends up naked wherever he ends up. He has to find clothes and eventually just wait for the “jump” to pass because he eventually travels back to his original time and place from where he first disappears. Essentially, he lives a linear life but disappears every so often to visit other time periods of his life and other places he may have never been before.

Anyway, the rules are laid down and adhered to within the book and the fantastical element works extremely well, especially when creating complications for Henry and his eventual wife Clare. The movie came out in 2009, which I saw and thought was an excellent adaptation. I recommend both, but of course encourage the option of reading. Though the movie does have one scene that makes me hold back a tear. Not many movies do this but this one does.

Rare moment of vulnerability aside, this book does contain a lot of sex and drug use (not a ton, but enough to not recommend it to children/younger/immature persons). The movie cut a lot of those things out so it is safe to watch. They do show Eric Bana’s butt a few times though (I’m sure some of you may be pushing play on the movie right now because of that). Other than the few omissions of “suggestive themes,” the book is pretty much spot on in capturing the major moments and most of the smaller ones. Of course, movies never include everything in the book.

The story centers on the relationship of Clare and Henry and focuses on each character equally. It’s a gripping story that incorporates time travel extremely well and isn’t even a typical science fiction book that you might expect. It’s more of a fiction with the time travel element added for a bit of excitement (to put it mildly).

Happy Reading.