We

WeWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a strange, wild ride that I can only describe as a mixture of Ayn Rand’s Anthem and George Orwell’s 1984. Though We was published long before either of these books were even beginning to be written. It likely influenced Rand and Orwell when writing their own novels. We was written and published exactly 100 years ago and has an interesting history of its own. It was first translated and published in English in 1924, but it almost didn’t get published or survive the political changes happening in Russia after the first World War.

There are strong elements of Russian communism within the novel but the novel as a whole offers a critique of the political system, which created tension between Zamyatin and his own country. In fact, the international publication of We became the reason the Russian government began repressing writers in 1929. Zamyatin elected a self-imposed exile after this book was attacked and removed from Soviet libraries and he was forbidden to publish any future work. He and his wife moved to Paris (with permission from Stalin) in 1931. He later died in 1937 never returning to the country he considered home.

The novel was written at the beginning of what we now know as the communist period of Russian history. We was an examination into a future where such a political system was made perfect, at least in reference to the citizens becoming merely parts of a whole known as The One State. The citizen’s live within a walled city and their days are mapped by the hour and the schedule is strictly followed. Their apartment-style living quarters are made of a futuristic glass material allowing absolutely no privacy. They are all furnished minimally and in exactly the same way. However, there are blinds, but they can only be drawn when an approved “pink ticket” is inserted. This provides privacy for one hour and the tickets are approved only for sexual activity.

Our lead character, D-503, gradually faces changes to his own conditioned way of thinking. The number designation, instead of a name, is echoed in Rand’s Anthem which also presents a society focused on a collective instead of the individual but with different results. I noticed a handful of similarities in plot with Orwell’s 1984However, and again, We preceded both of these novels, but I must admit I liked the latter novels more. We does present its own, intriguing dystopian vision which is important in its own way.

The book did get fairly abstract at times, especially since it is written in journal form through the perspective of D-503 and often uses mathematics to make analogies. They are easily understood but several entries are not fully formed or lack description. I cannot say whether or not the translation from Russian into English accounts for the lack of clarity or if it was written that way with purpose. I’ll let you be the judge.

If you are a fan of dystopian novels, which I must admit that I am, you will likely enjoy this book. Dystopian novels are unique because they offer a vision into an imagined future based on events from our own history. They are a commentary of the time they were written but set in worlds where practices of that time, often injustices, are allowed to persist and become normal behaviors within futuristic societies. They are written almost as warnings of what may come to pass. The same applies here but perhaps with more historical contexts.

But it is up to you if you decide to read it. I am merely providing some information that may help you make that decision. Perhaps this is the first time you have heard of this book. I know I only discovered it recently and likely never would have heard of it if I hadn’t read a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin. Should you take the plunge into this strange world, I hope you enjoy it or at least take something of value from its pages.

Happy Reading.

How Do You Rate a Book? – A Commentary on the Goodness of Goodreads

A few weeks ago I noticed a small trend/discussion on Twitter from several authors commenting about their distaste for Goodreads and it got me thinking. Some of their points were extremely valid while others came across as simply complaining. What really sparked my thoughts was how exactly do we “rate” a book?

Before I go into my thoughts about how we rate books, I want to give some context as to what these authors were grumbling about. They claimed not to like Goodreads because people could “rate” their work without having actually read it. I remember now what sparked the conversation. Certain people or bots were creating accounts on Goodreads and rating books with one star. Some of these accounts were mimicking several authors who were and were not active on Goodreads, and crazily enough, they were giving some books one star whereas the real author had given the book five stars. Goodreads apparently had not acted or responded to several requests that these fake accounts be deleted.

Since technology can easily be used to manipulate markets and flood our screens with targeted information, are such systems meant for social interaction and shared interests safe places that provide us with relevant information? Or is that information being changed on a whim by computer algorithms?

A loaded question, I know. I agree with many of the authors concerns. I don’t necessarily think it is fair that even authentic accounts can go in and provide a rating for a book they have not read or did not finish (DNF). The rating system so ingrained in our culture has pros and cons but is definitely at risk of manipulation. Think about how ratings impact your decisions. Do you ever decide not to buy something, say on Amazon, because the average rating is low or you found a similar product with a higher rating? Do you peruse what the reviews say about the product or check to see how many people were included in the average rating? Are you someone who uses reviews to make decisions but never leaves reviews of the products you buy?

We use the information and opinions of thousands of strangers as a basis for finding good products. But how does that work with books? How can one rating system be suitable for a medium that spans hundreds of years and millions of interests? To me, Goodreads (or similar programs) is a tool I use mainly for personal use. I don’t have too many “friends” on Goodreads and I don’t really use the social aspect of the program. Though I do think it is great that you can find people who love books and see what your friends are reading and what they like since a friend’s recommendation holds much more weight than a mass of strangers. I personally only take recommendations in person when it comes to books. I also write book recommendations on this blog as my own way of giving actual feedback about the books I read.

I use the rating system simply for myself, but lately I’ve been questioning my own method of rating books. If I DNF a book, I will not rate it because I don’t believe you should rate a book you did not read. That would be like saying something tastes good before actually taking a bite. You don’t have the full experience. Sure it looks good, but it could taste terrible and vice-versa. I hardly ever give two stars or lower. If I don’t care much for a book, I usually don’t care to comment on it. I give three stars if I like the book, four if I really like it, and five stars if I absolutely love it and have already recommended it to all my friends (which is really the highest “rating” you can give a book). These ratings are my opinion. I think they allow any stranger that looks at my profile to see what I like and give them an idea of what I like to read. I love it when two people can rave about the same book. Books have the ability to form friendships and encourage passionate discussions. This is one reason I love them and want to write books of my own (it will be interesting when my own books show up and get rated on Goodreads, which will likely provide a different perspective for me).

But again, how do you rate a book? How can you rate books in the same system when they have nothing in common? I like to branch out and read new things. I’ve recently been reading much more nonfiction. So how do I rate a nonfiction book seemingly in comparison to a book of fiction? If I give them both three stars, does that mean I liked them equally despite having totally different experiences? Usually not. It is just in the moment after finishing the book when I consider if I liked it and how much. I then give the rating. I don’t compare the book to others I have read (with a few exceptions like if the book is better than other in the same series). I don’t think about how that rating may impact the overall rating for that book, which in turn may influence a complete strangers decision to read the book or not. I hope no one (or not many people) actually makes a decision to read a book based on a rating. Books are not kitchen appliances. But ratings do influence opinions and sales.

As with any rating system or criticisms, there are plenty of books people rate highly that I thought were just alright and there are books I love which others didn’t seem to enjoy. Some people love to gripe about anything. I worked in customer service for years and 90% of the interactions where a customer needed my attention as a manager was when they were dissatisfied. Rarely did anyone come up and praise anything or say how much they enjoyed their experience. I don’t think the same necessarily applies to rating books, but we use the same scales for businesses and the internet emboldens those grumpy customers to post one-star ratings on Yelp or Google or whatever they use. Sometimes they will use several so their nasty opinion can do the most damage. Some people just suck.

I use Goodreads and its rating system. But it is strictly for my own purposes. I refuse to be nasty about anything because I don’t need to add to that pile of poison already rotting the internet. I also use Goodreads to keep lists of books I want to read. I could not rate books and still use Goodreads simply to keep lists. Perhaps I may make that change. The program is a tool after all and can be used however you like. Just like any tool, it can be misused by the wielder. I do think Goodreads should authenticate accounts and remove any bots that try to alter ratings with false input. However, I also choose to read books based on my own interests and will not let a simple rating deter me from potentially discovering an amazing book. I will decide for myself if I like it. I am my own person. As are you.

The Murderbot Diaries

Murderbot-novellasThe Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is a series of novellas centered around an artificial construct with organic, human components. This means the main character is a robot with human parts, which is often called a cyborg, but the semantics are essentially irrelevant because Martha Wells created her own universe and we are lucky to play around in it beside her artificial being who calls itself Murderbot. As with all book recommendations, there will be no spoilers.

The series currently has four installments. All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy. The newest book is titled Network Effect and is set to release in May this year. I say book because this upcoming novel is in fact a full-length, standalone novel whereas the previous books are much shorter and read as continuations of the original story. I won’t be surprised if we see several if not all four of these first books published in a one-volume collection with four parts. They are all quick reads and each could be read easily in one day/afternoon. This is both fantastic and unfortunate. Fantastic because they are easy and fun to read (and you can easily read them all before the new book arrives), but unfortunate because you want more Murderbot (which luckily there are four out already and the fifth on the way).

There are several things I really like about this series. One is the main character who calls themself Murderbot. They are an anti-social being who just wants to watch tv shows all day and not interact with humans. The issue is, they are not considered human and are owned by a company who uses them as a security robot. I really enjoy stories that have introverted characters who slowly learn how to become human, which can be argued as what happens in this story. Argued is the key word here.

The second thing I really like is about the character of Murderbot but came to me via author V.E. Schwab’s twitter account.

V_MBTweet

Of course, Murderbot is genderless because it is fabricated but has human parts (and none of those parts are related to sex). I thought it was fascinating that this was a prime example of how readers create part of the story when reading books. I had projected my own gender on this main character and assumed they were male. I only realized this once it was pointed out. This just goes to show that gender and sex really don’t need to be part of a fictional character and readers can bring their own views into the fictional worlds they enjoy. As a writer myself, I’m glad I now have a prime example to use when/if I ever have to argue gender or sexuality of characters.

If you have read the Murderbot series, did you apply your own gender to Murderbot? I’m curious. If you are female, did you apply a male gender to Murderbot because they exhibit traditionally male stereotypes (protective, destructive, violent, stubborn)?

A few things that made the universe of Murderbot a little frightening for me was the way corporations are represented and how data is constantly collected (legally and illegally) and data-mined for profit. I think such data-mining is currently happening with social media and other programs we use today, but we are only at the very early stages of what is seen in Murderbot. Ever have a conversation about something and then see an add on your phone a few minutes later? Yeah. That’s because companies use any techniques they can to try and get you to buy something. Wells may very well be predicting an unsettling part of our future with this aspect.

To stay true to my “no spoilers” comment at the start. I’ll end the post here. If you like science fiction and space travel and robots, you’ll likely enjoy Murderbot. If you consider yourself introverted, you’ll also likely enjoy Murderbot. If you don’t think you would like Murderbot based on this post, give it a shot anyway. The first book is the perfect size to try it out.

Happy Reading.

Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With (Time-Travel Edition)

That’s right, it’s the time-travel edition. These are all authors who I would have loved to have coffee with. Several of them had passed away prior to my even being born. Several were alive during my lifetime but I had not yet discovered their work and/or their fun nature. So, if I had a time machine, I’d use it to visit each of these authors to have a casual afternoon tea with (or beer or whatever). I definitely wouldn’t use a time machine for nefarious or benevolent reasons of course.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien AuthorOf course I would have Tolkien on this list. He has been a big influence on my life as well as millions of others throughout the years. A special thanks to my dad for introducing me to his work, and to Peter Jackson for his excellent film adaptations that I experienced during some of my earlier years. I became slightly crazed devouring Tolkien’s works when I first found them and though that craze has lessened, I still enjoy reading his stories. He will always be an influence in my life as well as my imagination. If you haven’t read the Tolkien biography by Humphrey Carpenter, I recommend it.

Philip K. Dick

Phil K Dick AuthorPhilip K. Dick unexpectedly became one of my favorite science fiction authors. I still have a lot of his work to read, but I’ve read several short story collections and I love most of them (some are a little goofy but most keep you thinking). He was truly an excellent write who could convey complex ideas through a simply told story. He made it look easy and Hollywood continues to use his stories for films and television. I would trade in a chance to meet him if doing so would have prevented his stroke. He could have lived so much longer and produced so much more work. His pseudo-memoir, which is really an interview transcription, titled What If Our World is Their Heaven? is a fascinating glimpse into who he was.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le GuinAlas, I discovered Le Guin only a few months before she passed away in 2018. I have much of her work yet to read, including her popular Earthsea series, but I will get around to it. Her non-fiction is fascinating and I believe she led important movements at a critical time in the development of science fiction and the publishing industry. There is much more change needed in publishing (I just read about the scandal with American Dirt), but Le Guin fought for what she believed in and that is admirable. She wanted science fiction to be taken seriously and she wanted more women writers in the world. She especially wanted women writers to stop using pseudonyms and own their work. I think we still need many people like her in the world to fight the good fight.

Robert Jordan

robert-jordanI read Robert Jordan‘s The Wheel of Time series last year and it was an experience. He rightfully deserves his fans admiration. And speaking of his fans, they are excellent people. I follow many who are part of the #twitteroftime group and they are simply fun people who love the series and love sharing about it. It’s nice to find a fandom that isn’t toxic like so many out there. Jordan’s work has brought a lot of people together and I am excited for the television adaptation, which is currently in production. Jordan is another author who had lived during my lifetime. He passed away in 2007. I would have been sixteen then, but I would have loved to meet him (if only I had discovered his series sooner). The series is quite large at ~4.5 million words across 15 books (14 and a prequel). I tracked my reading of the series on this blog. It does contain spoilers after the second book posting, but it was fun to track my thoughts and predictions as the story progressed.

Ray Bradbury

Ray BradburyI somehow had no idea that Ray Bradbury was alive during the same time I was. I naively assumed he passed away several decades ago. This is probably because I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and almost everything else we read in school was by authors who lived a long time ago. I was wrong and can only claim youthful ignorance. Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012. I was, by then, a not-so-naive adult at age 21. What I wouldn’t have done to meet him had I known. I recently picked up his book Zen in the Art of Writing from my local library and am excited to jump in.

Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne JonesA somewhat recent discovery for me, I first discovered Diana Wynne Jones without realizing. I watched the film Howl’s Moving Castle and simply loved it. It was a few years later that I found out the movie was based on the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. I of course read the book. I love them both equally and separately. I have since heard many stories about Diana herself and she seemed like such a lovely person. She has been an inspiration to many and I’m sure my fondness for her work will grow. I recently was gifted her book Reflections: On the Magic of Writing and I am excited to read it also.

 

Even after someone is gone, they are able to leave behind bits and pieces of themselves for others to discover. Some hold those pieces dearly, others simply enjoy them, and others will share them and discuss them with their friends. This is one of the greatest things about books and writing. I’m grateful to have discovered these authors and some of them have been influential in my life and they all inspire my own writing pursuits. I also simply love to read their stories.

*If anyone develops a time-machine and could loan it to me or wants to join on an adventure, contact me immediately.

8 Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With

I must admit that I came across a blog post by N S Ford and I thought it was a fun idea. Now, I love coffee, but I have recently gotten into tea as well (partly in an attempt to reduce my caffeine intake), so this post is really a “authors I’d love to hang out with over a drink” post.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman AuthorI’ve talked about Neil Gaiman before and have recommended many of his books. I took his MasterClass about a year ago and may very well take it again soon. Neil is one of several authors (a few also on this list) whose writing I enjoy and whose personalities I find even more fascinating. You can find more of what I think about Neil by reading my post On Neil Gaiman which is part of my Authors Who Influence Me series.

V. E. Schwab

VE SchwabI cannot remember how I first discovered V, but as with Neil, I find her fascinating as well. She gave an excellent speech titled “In Search of Doorways” at the J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College in 2018. She has an active Twitter presence and is a fun to follow.

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorAnother author who I have written about in my On Authors series, Tobias Wolff is a prolific writer who I don’t think appears on many peoples radars because his work is primarily in the realm of short stories. I absolutely love his work and would love to have an informal talk with him about many things.

Gareth L. Powell

Gareth L PowellI first discovered Gareth L Powell on Twitter and only a few months ago. Others were talking about his book About Writing: A Field Guide for Aspiring Authors. I recently read it and greatly enjoyed it. I have yet to read his fiction but I plan to pick up Embers of War in the near future and dive in. He is an absolute delight to follow. He is engaging, uplifting, and an overall prime example of what social media can be used for as he offers encouragement and maintains positive enthusiasm.

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm GladwellI never knew who Malcolm Gladwell was until I took his MasterClass on writing. I have since read all but one of his books. His most recent, Talking to Strangers, is my favorite of them all. I’ve learned so much from his research and skillful way of tying topics together around a theme that would beforehand seem unrelated. I’d have so many questions for him but would be happy just sitting there and listening to him talk.

J. K. Rowling

JKRowling_2016GalaYet another from my On Authors series, how could I not have J. K. on this list. I grew up alongside her popular character Harry Potter. By this I mean I literally grew up as the books were released and I was around the same age as Harry when each installment was released. Though I would like to have coffee/tea with her, I don’t think I’d really talk about Harry Potter at all.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret AtwoodSomehow I failed to read Margaret Atwood, or even know of her, until I took her MasterClass. She seems like a delightfully fun person and I know I would enjoy talking with her. I still have much of her work to read, but I will get to it eventually. Oryx and Crake is the next book of hers I think I will read unless I read The Testaments next as I’ve already read A Handmaid’s Tale.

Patrick Rothfuss

rothfussworldbuildersI first read Pat’s work about three years ago. I have since convinced several friends to read his Kingkiller Chronicles series and they both love me and hate me for it. I first discovered Pat through Twitter when someone (I believe it was a publisher) posted a video of him and Sabaa Tahir talking about writing and sequels and taking questions from fans. I thought they were both delightful and I read his book and loved it.

 

 

Those are eight authors who I’d love to have a drink with. I’m sure there are several others who would make such a list and many more who I have yet to discover, but we will save those for another time. Stay tuned for Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With (Time-Travel Edition).

*If your name is on this list, the drinks are on me of course.