Note: This review contains spoilers, outlining most of the plot. But also note that Permutation City is not genre fiction, so the plot is not the point. The value of this book lies in its deep exploration of ideas. Greg Egan’s 1994 novel Permutation City is, first and foremost, the product of a brilliant mind. The story opens, more or less, around the year 2050. The rich have taken to scanning their minds before death and then running their digital consciousness as “Copies” inside of computer-generated virtual realities.
This is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. The author, Humphrey Cobb, fought with the Canadian army on the front lines in France in World War I. While he points out that the events of the novel are fiction, much of what he describes is obviously based on what he witnessed in the trenches, and the core of the book’s horrifying plot comes from actual historical events. The book opens with two soldiers watching the tired march of a bedraggled infantry unit.
Having just read Jean Hanff Korelitz' The Plot, I found this book to be a difficult slog indeed. The Plot is genre fiction (a thriller), and as such, the author takes care to limit her cast to a manageable number of characters, to delineate those characters clearly, to define where and when scenes take place, to focus the scenes on consequential action and dialog, to build tension and steadily advance a coherent plot.
This is an exceedingly clever novel. The inside flap of the dust cover gives three definitions of the word “plot,” and this book is about all three: a sequence of events in a narrative, as in a novel, for example. an immoral or illegal plan a designated section of land for a gravesite Jacob Finch Bonner (aka Jake) is once-promising novelist whose career didn’t pan out. After a well-received first novel, his second book foundered.
The Tenth Man opens in a German prison near the end of World War II. Thirty or so Frenchmen, civilian prisoners of war from all walks of life, are packed together in a dingy cell. Cut off from the outside world, and with nothing to do, they hang on to an old watch and an alarm clock, reminders of order in a world that has fallen into chaos, while they glumly await the war’s end.
In Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl, sixty-one-year-old author Gerry Andersen has an accident that leaves him bedridden and heavily sedated for three months. Andersen’s young assistant, Victoria, goes on double duty as both secretary and nurse. In the evening a new woman, Aileen, enters the writer’s Baltimore penthouse as night nurse. Andersen, a successful author of literary fiction, is best known for his novel Dream Girl, which has brought him wealth, fame, and a number of awards.
Martian Time-Slip, published in 1964, takes place on Mars in the late 1990s. The United Nations has begun colonizing the red planet, “reclaiming” desert to serve as farmland and establishing settlements along the great canals. Water is scarce, as are fine foods and luxury goods. Most people subsist on water rations and whatever meager crops they can raise. Jack Bohlen is a repairman flying from job to job in his Yee Company helicopter.
Lucy Graham is a twenty-two-year-old children’s governess in the home of a respected Essex surgeon. She seems to have no past, having arrived penniless from London with a single glowing recommendation from an obscure school mistress. Local widower Sir Micheal Audley, the wealthiest man in the county, smitten by her beauty and charm, makes her an offer she can’t refuse. “The truth is that Lady Audley had, in becoming the wife of Sir Micheal, made one of those apparently advantageous matches which are apt to draw upon a woman the envy and hatred of her sex.
Scott Peck’s People of the Lie proposes that psychology should begin a formal scientific study of evil, and that evil should be added as a diagnosis in American psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Peck mentions along the way that when he made this suggestion to an audience of psychologists and theologians, both sides disagreed with him. Though this book is full of interesting ideas and valuable observations, I agree with Peck’s audience.
We first meet Norwood Pratt, a red-haired twenty-three-year-old from Ralph, Texas, as he’s being discharged from the Marines on account of family hardship. His father has just passed away, leaving his sister Vernell with no one to care for her. Vernell “was a heavy, sleepy girl with bad posture. She was old enough to look after herself and quite large enough, but in many ways she was a great big baby.
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