Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

A company town is a place where practically all stores and housing are owned by the one company that is also the main employer. – Wikipedia

3/5 stars.
ebook,  241 pages.
Read from March 1, 2017 to March 7, 2017.

Book number three out of the Canada Reads 2017 five shortlist nominees. This science fiction novel was a nice change of pace from the general fiction genre that normally dominates Canada Reads. Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

Hwa lives in a company town. Almost everyone does these days. Hwa is different than the rest of the people living in the rig as she is nearly completely organic. In the future people use bionics and engineering to enhance their bodies, looks and health. Hwa is a bodyguard for the sex workers on the rig and she is very good at what she does. Having a spiteful mother and upbringing, in combination with the loss of her brother as well as her skills in taekwondo, has given Hwa rough persona, making her an ideal bodyguard. Her skills do not go unnoticed and she is soon asked to be the bodyguard to the heir of the Lynch family who own the large company that owns the town. The Lynch’s are strange and all of their hopes are on this one boy that Hwa must take care of. Soon after she starts this new job watching the Lynch boy,  people she knows start to be murdered in a horrific fashion. Faced with questions about the involvement of the Lynch family and the murders of her friends, Hwa risks her life to find the truth about what is really going on her in her company town.

Hwa is a fantastic character. I only wish that there were more like her: strong, smart, brave (all in the masculine sense too) and she can kick some serious ass. Her Korean heritage was a great addition too. Even the romance that evolves in the story suited me. I actually enjoyed it. It was subtle and didn’t detract from the main story. There is nothing I hate more when an intriguing story is taken over by a lame romance so this novel made me very happy in that aspect.

However I felt that this novel was not as well executed as it could have been. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with all the bionics and tech in the beginning. Additionally, the killer in the story, while not who I expected, did not feel like an important enough character through the book to have such a pinnacle role. I felt confused and disappointed at the end in that sense. I actually had to go back and reread a few parts because I wasn’t even sure how he came into play through the story.

While I feel there are important themes in this books, especially in relation to how massive the oil companies and rigs are in Canada, I don’t feel it has the same potency as the other two books that I have read so far and does not meet the Canada Reads 2017 question (What book do Canadians need now?) as well as the others.

Overall this is a great book for those interested in strong female protagonists and the science-fiction genre.

Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji

It’s midnight, the lion is out…

They are spirits destined to live a second life
In body; they assemble to drink
From the brimming Lethe, and its water
Heals their anxieties and obliterates
All trace of memory.”
– AeneidBook VI

4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
February 22, 2017 to February 24, 2017.

Onwards! Book two of five for the Canada Reads 2017 debate.

Imagine that you are able to live forever and have whatever identity and persona you would like. Who would you be? Would you shed the memories of your previous life? And could you afford such a treatment?  Nostalgia is a story of these choices and possibilities.

It is the future and we have found a way to live forever. Well, at least if you are a wealthy Westerner. If you have the funds you can choose to live forever and make yourself whoever you wish to be. The sacrifice being that your old memories must be removed for these new identities to take place, with scripted fictitious memories being left in their place. As a result of this feat of technology, there has become a massive gap between poor and wealthy countries. The poor countries are war town and the people live in absolute poverty. Additionally, there is a rift between the two generations of people with eternal life: the older generation that has had numerous lives and identities, and the newer generation who currently have only ever lived one life and have one set of original memories. The newer generation, is extremely frustrated and resentful as they cannot find jobs because the older generation has not, nor will not, vacate any of them. Meaning that the newer generation has to scrape by or find someone of the older generation to rely on. Dr. Frank Sina is one from the fortunate older generation of eternals.

Frank is a doctor who specializes in treating those who have are troubled with memories resurfacing from previous lives/identities. Frank is immensely successful at his job, has a young lover, and has never questioned his purpose as a doctor or even his immortality. That is until he meets one of his new clients: Presley Smith. Presley is haunted with reoccurring thoughts and images from another time and place. While Presley’s case is not remarkable, Frank cannot seem to let go of it, even when Presley insists he can control it, and even when he is forbidden to interfere from the Department of Internal Security. Frank’s drive to help, and even protect Presley, is unknown to him but it will unravel the life that he believes he knows.

This novel is an example of a successful dystopia. It’s not too far fetched to be true science fiction and it holds enough truth in it to reflect the present. The author depicts a very real conflict between baby boomers and millennials with the new and old generations of those with eternal life as well as the disparity of wealth between have and have-not countries and the lack of understanding and general humanity that wealthier countries have on the issue.

The novel also discusses the morality and conflict of what it would be like to live forever. The major philosophical point however is that, deep down, we cannot truly change who we are and in the end we are all connected.

In terms of the question for Canada Reads: What is the one book Canadians need now? – This book is a great candidate for the winner. Despite the political differences and atmosphere currently this book serves to remind all Canadians that regardless of where you came from or what you believe, we cannot forget that we are all the same. Additionally it serves to remind people to help those in need. Perhaps it also goes to say, that in terms of science and technology, that just because we can, it does not mean we should.

This was an outstanding read. As it stands I am going to have a hard time deciding on who I think should win this year’s Canada Reads. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys dystopia, philosophy, science and the dynamics of human relationships and self.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Mortals never win when the god’s play games. Not even dogs.

“I wonder,” said Hermes, “what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.”

I’ll wager a year’s servitude“, answered Apollo, “that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 235 pages.
Read from February 19, 2017 to February 21, 2017.

This is the first book I tackled off the Canada Reads 2017 shortlist!  I have approached the short list this year not knowing anything about the current books that are being discussed and I find that kind of exciting. It allows me to read each book without any bias too. After reading the first chapter of this book, I knew I was in for a treat.

Greek gods have always found a way to cause trouble and misery for mortals. We are just pawns in their big game. Well as Apollo and Hermes, the sons of Zeus, are having a leisurely drink in the mortal realm, they make a bet. Apollo believes that human intelligence binds us to being unhappy while Hermes disagrees. To settle the bet, they agree to give fifteen dogs inside one vet clinic the “gift” of human intelligence while also allowing them to remember their previous life before beforehand. Following this gift, most of the dogs agree to leave the clinic and join as a pack. Murder and betrayal are quick to follow. Vivid, descriptive and unique, André delves into a first-person perspective of what the world would look like through the eyes of these dogs, while also relaying a philosophical approach to our own humanity.

I loved this book. It was truly a treat to read. The writing styles is gorgeous, fluid and consistent while the author also made easy work of the characters and plot despite its complexities. Why aren’t more novels this length? Novels, like movies, are becoming ridiculously large these days and people seem to have forgotten the art of being concise. It is much harder to be concise than it is to write at length. This book is a perfect example of beautiful and poignant writing.

Can I also say, that I wish I could have a relationship with my pets the way that Nira and Majoun had. What would my silly cats say? I can’t imagine that either of them would be as philosophical as Majoun, but hey, you never know! I enjoyed reading the banter the two of them and the differences in how they perceived certain situations. For example, Majoun does not understand why Nira finds it so repulsive that he enjoys the taste of his own poop or that he sees her mate as the leader of the pack and not her. Majoun still makes sense of the world through the culture of dogs despite coming to some basic understanding of human culture. And kudos to André, if dogs could communicate and think the way that humans do, I believe this is exactly what would they would think like.

In terms of the Canada Reads question: What is the one book Canadians need now? – this book analyzes our humanity, both the good and the bad, and focuses on the positives of: language, poetry/art, and companionship in relation to happiness and purpose. With the current political atmosphere, this book helps reminds of our need to connect and communicate, to ultimately respect the differences of others, and just how essential this is to our happiness as a species. As with the dogs in this book, hate only leads to more hate, hurt and tragic endings.

Even after the bet is over, Hermes and Apollo still, even after all this time have not come to a complete understanding of mortals. To know what it is to die or that your life has an expiry date is an inspiration and a curse that an immortal would never be able to understand, which is why their fascination will never cease.