Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Labyrinth”

In this Vorkosigan short story, which follows Ethan of Athos chronologically, Miles takes charge again, heading to Jackson’s Whole for the dual purpose of meeting a new man in power there (Baron Fell) and acquiring a geneticist for a client of the Dendarii Mercs. Things rapidly fall apart, and Admiral Naismith must avoid falling into the wrong hands, killing an innocent woman, and torture by several parties.

I found this story much more in the spirit of the Vorkosigan series than Ethan of Athos. Miles is present and active, and several other recurring characters are introduced (it certainly helps explain Mirror Dance, which I read before this one). I usually dislike short stories, as I prefer lengthy Deed of Paksennarion and Lord of the Rings types of books, but this was very good, with an intricate plot and a satisfying conclusion. It was more like a mini-novel than a short story.

While this isn’t a good place to start reading the Vorkosigan series (I would recommend Cordelia’s Honor), it is a great addition to the series and definitely worth reading (multiple times).

Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke

This story, told first person from the perspective of a sex addict (Victor Mancini), tells of Victor’s struggles to gain an identity, to deal with his mother, and to understand his role in the world (or lack of). Victor pays for his sick mother’s $3000-a-month care by working for $6/h at a historical theme park and choking nightly in restaurants, after which his saviors send him money for whatever problems he tells them he has (rent, electricity, etc.).

In the jacket blurb for this book, Victor is called an “anti-hero for our deranging times”; I think that is a perfect description. He’s a med school drop-out, a bum, a sex addict, and a bastard, all of which are conditions that our society propogates in one way or another.

Although it took a little longer for me to get into this book than Fight Club (I found the first chapter a little excessive in its criticism), I was soon just as enamored. The development of Victor and the other characters is superb, and very realistic. The writing style seemed to reflect Victor’s training as a doctor, succinct and full of medical jargon and pessimistic diagnoses. The medical jargon provided either a flinch or a laugh, depending on the situation, but was always entertaining. When you read Palahniuk’s works, it doesn’t seem like you are reading about the viewpoints of some middle-aged satirist; it seems like you are in fact reading an autobiography of the main character, and the views expressed may not be Palahniuk’s at all.

Like Fight Club, this book is jarring and shocking, and not recommended for the faint of heart. Although I love this book, I found the sex a little excessive, but it served its purpose in the story’s development. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoyed Fight Club and to anyone that wants to read something different from all the other “normal” junk being published right now. The squeamish need not apply.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Ethan of Athos

This installment of the Vorkosigan Saga features a young doctor from the all-male, generally homosexual planet of Athos who must acquire a new set of ovaries for the continuation of life on Athos. The problem is, he must interact with the morally inferior Galactics, and in particular, women. Ethan joins with Admiral Naismith’s agent Elli Quinn to uncover a plot that threatens the stability and longevity of the Athosians.

This wasn’t a bad book. It wasn’t particularly great either, but it wasn’t bad. Miles is non-existant except as a source of inspiration for Quinn, and no other typical Vorkosigan characters are present. It lacks the energy of the other Vorkosigan novels, however (probably due to the lack of Miles’s hyperactivity). Given how great an average Bujold novel usually is, I rate this one slightly below average. I would recommend this to those who are already fans of the Vorkosigan series. Newcomers should read Cordelia’s Honor or Young Miles. If you are looking for a good sci-fi adventure novel in general, I would say pick up Weber’s On Basilisk Station.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club

This novel, now a movie, tells of two young men, one of which starts a destructive club (Fight Club) with the intent to wake up the world and change it, and the other who must deal with his insomnia, his conscience, and a desire to hit bottom.

I fell in love with this book on the second page. It’s that simple. Palahniuk’s writing style and choice of content grabbed me, and to be perfectly truthful, haven’t let go of me yet, although I am done with the book. This book appealed to me in the base way Fight Club appealed to the men in the book. Although I don’t believe in destroying things to make a statement, the reasons that Tyler Durden wished to change the world made some sense to me.

The book is also considerably darker than the movie. I think another part of the appeal of this book to me was the contrast between the Hollywood version and the “real” version. It almost seemed to underscore some the points in the novel, or at least the general theme.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for something new and original and funny and shocking to read. This isn’t a fairy tale or a joke, although no fiction book should be taken too seriously. I would not recommend this book to die-hard pacifists or squeamish folks.

Richard Wright’s Black Boy

This is the autobiography of a black man born in 1908 in the South. The story goes through his days as a Communist in the mid-1930s and deals with his changing viewpoints on the events in his life. The story is punctuated with reflective analyses by Wright on his own attitudes, the attitudes of the people around him, and his views on the psychology involved in the events of his life.

I found the first part (literally, Part I) this book extremely fascinating, and the majority of Part II to be fairly dull, but not horrible by any means. Wright’s younger days provide insight into the way of life for a black boy and family of that time, including his dealings with his immediate and extended family, and the people around him. I would definitely recommend this book to others, despite the slow ending.

taking joy in human unreason