Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on Goodreads.com.

My second Vonnegut, I’ll let others review the book more thoroughly. However, while I don’t know that I’d call myself a Vonnegut fan, his style is excellent and his satire sharp (if at times reductionary), and several of these stories will make their way into my teaching curriculum. Of note among them:

“Harrison Bergeron”: America finally achieves equity—by punishing any upward-moving difference. The strong must wear weights, the beautiful must wear masks, the intelligent must wear in-ear thought interrupters. An excellent prediction (prophecy?) of the sacrificing of greatness, uniqueness, and ability for strict egalitarianism, and how doing so only fosters mediocrity and ressentiment.

“All the King’s Horses”: “AKH” features Colonel Bryan Kelly who has crash landed in Asia with his family and men. Captured by guerillas under supervision of the USSR, Kelly must play a game of chess with the guerilla leader, Pi Ying, with his men being killed as he loses his pieces. What follows is provides an examination of the responsibility of those in the military who must strategize with men’s lives, as well as a general critique of militarism in the vague parameters of the Cold War.

“The Euphio Question”: Scientists discover and broadcast a radio frequency from deep in space which causes anyone who hears it to experience absolute euphoria; tapped for marking as a new form of entertainment, the frequency subsequently becomes similar to a drug, dragging people’s lives to a halt. An excellent examination of drug addiction, as well as implicitly of the assumption that drugs are simply a problem of the lower classes.

“EPICAC”: A retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac with a supercomputer supplying poetic lines for its overly analytical handler in love with his lab-mate.

“Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow”: The invention of anti-gerasone has made dying of old age a thing of the past; subsequently, cities have sprawled (with the outskirts of Chicago being in Iowa), families have soured, and the old man just refuses to die. A humorous motif is the central family head’s will, which has been changed so many times it resembles little of the sombre document it once was. A satire that borders on the absurd, “T,T, and T” questions the presumption that we should want to live forever.


Elantris by Brandon Sanderson—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on Goodreads.com.

Brandon Sanderson’s debut, Elantris follows betrothed deuteragonists Prince Raoden of Arelon and Princess Sarene of Teod as, in their respective spheres into which each was unexpectedly thrown, they try to deduce the reasons for the curse of Elantris and prevent revolution in Arelon.

The story opens with Raoden enduring the Reod, which turns him into an Elantrian, a walking corpse unable to heal and unable to die; he is subsequently cast into the once great but now ruined city of Elantris that stands adjacent to Arelon’s capital. Meanwhile, his betrothed Sarene arrives by ship to discover he is, for all intents and purposes, dead—and, yet, the marriage contract will not allow her to annul the union that never happened. The story progresses from there, with both characters making their way through familiar fantasy subplots, which Sanderson nonetheless uses excellently and in new ways to form a great story.

While Sanderson is never polemical about his book’s perspective (the narrator’s focus is always clearly on the characters and their own assumptions, and on telling a great story), Elantris is an example of great plotlines coming from tried and true but, now, rarely seen viewpoints—here, those of the aristocracy against the revolutionary mob, as well as of the reformer who knows that charity is not always helpful, nor compassionate. The former perspective, shown in the political back-and-forths between Princess Sarene and Derethi priest Hrathen, who despite his position regrets previously taking part in a revolution that destroyed a country, lends nuance to what might otherwise be a simplistic revolution/reformation narrative; the book’s overarching plot of restoring the Elantrian monarchy, which has been wrongly denounced by history, also plays into this theme. Similarly, Raoden’s attempts to raise the half-dead denizens of Elantris above their misery by encouraging them to seek purposeful work and to build a community at times clashes with the charity of Sarene, who does not know Raoden is her lost betrothed.

I am normally ambivalent about fantasy, but with its well and steadily developed world, its incorporation of dynamic characters who are excellently fleshed out, and its reinvigoration of the restoration plot and other tropes, Elantris became a fantasy I’d very much recommend. Very much reminded me of other fantasies I enjoyed, like Tigana or The Wayfarer Redemption.