29 February, 2016

The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore

For Jay.

1. There are some interesting, very engaging ideas in here, but at the same time, I’m really disappointed with the logic used throughout. Early on, she starts explaining her biases—and this is an incredible positive. It’s refreshing to read an academic text that has such a clear outline and explanation of the biases. For instance, in Chapter 2 she explains, “The problem is that this beautifully simple idea is often misunderstood.” I have three main problems with this statement as a logical statement.
—First, this assumption that understanding necessitates agreement is a fallacy. I understand both many ideas I disagree with and many I agree with. I also don’t fully understand many I agree with—like gravity or vacuums—and many I don’t agree with. Whatever the matrix looks like between agree-disagree-understand-notunderstand, I think this assumption of Blackmore’s is a fallacy.
—Her calling this idea beautiful twice in three sentences before explaining the idea forces the reader to accept her conclusion on faith, or go into the explanation already disagreeing with her. In other words, her writing forces polarization in the readers before they’re given enough information to make up their own minds. This doesn’t set the reader an easy task of interfacing with the logic.
—By saying the beautiful idea is “often misunderstood”, she implies that this idea is not universally accepted, but does nothing more then set out the sketchiest straw-man argument for her opponents—they misunderstand—that is disingenuous to her own arguments: it steals her potential thunder by not engaging points her adversaries actually make. She had a wonderful opportunity to engage and teach, yet she dismisses her opponents this brusquely.
—This one sentence outlines my main problems with this book, and makes me question who the audience is: people who disagree are alienated, those who agree will be bored by the explanation to come, and those who are unsure are being forced to take a side before being given any information.

2. These problems are emblematic of the whole. Blackmore’s structure and method of explanation is simply ineffective. She waffles back and forth between off-the-cuff judgments—the idea being beautiful—and confusion over what she is saying, how she is saying it, who she is saying it to, and why she is saying it. These issues continue throughout the book, and keep the reader pushed to the outskirts the entire time.

3. My last major problem is that the logic is poor. Again, an early example that showed me what to expect coming down the pipe: “Where do new memes come from? They come about through variation and combination of old ones.” (15) I couldn’t think of a less interesting, less informative, less obvious question and answer about this subject. She ignores the potential interest and importance of meme origins and blazes ahead with confused and off-put readers, building arguments on assumptions and name-drops, then dropping the argument before actually beginning to argue anything from logic. She doesn’t even examine her biases to a level that satisfies me—their references come off more like name drops than premises. I could not stay interested throughout this book.

4. At the end, there are some engaging ideas that roll around in your head for days and weeks, but this is pop science. It’s some sort of proto-theory, a skeleton hypothesis, a starting point rather than a discussion. I understand that. But this means that the book never goes any deeper than the two quotations listed above. I went in looking to understand some interesting ideas, and ended up understanding nothing new, being confused by undefined terms inundating the work, and wondering if she actually gets around to arguing something and I missed it.

5. The theme here is pretty clear to me: it’s proselytistically pro-active nihilism. It argues that nothing has any meaning except what you put into it, and that’s that. A lot of metal music has trod this path for the last twenty years, and so I wasn’t surprised to see it here, or confused.

6. Philosophy has been dealing with this issue for thousands of years. It takes different names—nature and nurture, mitsein and dasein, featherless biped with soft nails, the herd and the individual, nesting venn diagram worlds—and Blackmore is simply attempting to drag this discussion closer to quantifiable science. But in so doing, she’s just created another set of made-up words referring to similar concepts.

22 February, 2016

The Fair in Emain Macha by Charles de Lint

1. The driving plot force here is actually pretty simple: give the main character something to want, then don’t let him have it. Colum wants to go home, to stay away, to just get away from everywhere, to get the girl, to kill the king, to befriend the Bear—and all of these are forbidden to him. This sets up the plot perfectly for a novella: five balls thrown up in the air straight off, then some exposition and ball-catching to bring them to closure. It works here because there is enough driving the story forward to keep one interested, but not so much that de Lint needs a large amount of exposition to make sense of the plot points he’s juggling. In other words: there’s enough going on to keep interest throughout the length, but not so much that it bogs the book down with information. De Lint balanced these well and his plot is mostly a success because of it.

2. I write ‘mostly successful’ because there is one annoying aspect of the plot: a deus ex machina moment at the end. Colum spears a dying druid through the heart, who then turns into a god and, instead of dying, is healed. This came with too much import to be seen as anything other than a cheap escape from a corner de Lint had written himself into. He foreshadows this transfiguration with a similar one a few pages earlier, and with the mystery surrounding druids throughout. But because the spearing is the ultimate moment of the book, the culmination, the foreshadowing isn’t enough. Aside from this one cheap bit, the plot works really well.

3. Character development is appropriate. Colum has competing desires, and competing mental states. This might be a little too cut and dry with the red rage, but it works in this novella because how much space does de Lint really have to make three dimensional characters with all the action going on? There’s not enough action to justify this being a novel without stretching a complex theme awkwardly over the top, but it’s too much to allow the author to develop these characters without splitting his attention awkwardly. Despite this, Colum is a well-crafted character, as are a couple of the others. And that shows good instincts.

4. The writing is a bit awkward, only because I haven’t read enough Yeats to understand all about Irish mythology, which is what the writing relies on. This keeps the reader inferring from context constantly, which is fine but a little annoying. The sentence structure and word choices are pulp fiction, but they’re done well. The dialogue is a bit stilted. In all, the writing is passable and fine.

5. It is a fun little tale with a theme of keeping promises and knowing when to be patient and when to be aggressive. Colum tries to fit his goals into a society that had forgotten him, and ends up relying upon others in order to accomplish some of them. It’s about compromise without compromising.

6. In short, I like Fritz Leiber, but out of this double-book, this story is more enjoyable than Leiber’s. I read on the internet that de Lint is all about urban fantasy, and I’ll have to read some of that because this is enjoyable as a short, quick adventure tale. This is more mythical fantasy though—dealing directly with Irish myths.

18 February, 2016

Ill Met in Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber

1. This 1970 novella tells of the meeting of Leiber’s two characters, Gray Mouser and Fafhrd. These characters had already been around since 1939, but this is their origin story—not the origin of either, but the origin of their camaraderie. From this fact comes my main complaint with the story: it’s simply there to tell the story of their meeting and why they became such fast friends at first. This is fan service. Maybe it’s full of inside jokes and references to the rest of the tales about these two that would delight a fan, but I wouldn’t get them if it was. I like Leiber. I haven’t read any of his other sword and sorcery Gray Mouser and Fafhrd tales, but his novel The Big Time impressed me immensely. Yet I am bored by Ill Met because it doesn’t do enough outside of introducing and linking these two already linked characters. However, it’s a novella, so it’s short and wasn’t hard to read, despite my boredom.

2. The pacing is good: it starts with two thieves exiting a heist and being ambushed by Gray Mouser and Fafhrd, who then link up and introduce each other to their girlfriends, they then party and decide to invade the Thieves Guild to search for a way to assassinate Thief leader Krovas, then they invade and things go bad, on their return to the women they realize how bad, so they run back to the Thieves, get some revenge, and leave town. The pacing speeds up for the action, making it seem frantic but still giving enough details to make it legible. It then slows for the party and the sneaking parts, allowing the characters to take center stage and forcing my realization that this is fan service. Despite my complaint, I feel that the pacing is appropriate to the story—not going overlong into any one scene, and not breezing over any interesting bit. It’s a three scene story, essentially: ambush, party, invasion/revenge. This is an effective tactic for a novella.

3. The theme here is that true friends can be soulmates: they will fight against and for each other like siblings, and there is an intrinsic understanding between well-matched friends. Words are often unnecessary between them, yet the words that do come are important. Said another way, friends are the family we choose.

4. The writing annoys me at times. It adopts this fake nostalgia, trying to sound aristocratic and gutter simultaneously and coming off just awkward and unbelievable. For instance, some dialogue in a bar:
Ho, there, you back of the counter! Where are my jugs? Rats eaten the boy who went for them days ago? Or he simply starved to death on his cellar quest? Well, tell him to get a swifter move on and meanwhile brim us again!
This is awkward writing that I don’t enjoy. Which is strange because I like Leiber’s other writing, at least what I’ve read so far.

5. In short, as a stand-alone novella, this doesn’t work. I am now less interested to read the other stories with these two characters than I was before reading this. If it’s fan service, it doesn’t apply to somebody who isn’t already a fan and familiar. If it isn’t, it’s just a boring, pointless novella. It is fine pulp fiction: exciting and well paced, legible and simple. But it’s also lacking import and applicability because Leiber trusts the readers are already familiar with these characters and skates around actually building them here. It’s probably a testament to the popularity of these two characters that this won both the Hugo and Nebula for novella in 1971.

17 February, 2016

Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

1. This novella steps out of the normal mode of Zelazny, or at least the mode of the last three books of his that I read—Creatures of Light and Darkness, This Immortal, and Lord of Light. Creatures tells a story with many characters and few explanations, This Immortal mixes dreams and reality but explains much, Lord of Light starts halfway through the story and then backtracks—while Damnation Alley tells a straight adventure, start to finish. Hell Tanner, yes his first name is Hell, drives from LA to Boston, carrying the cure for the plague eviscerating Boston. But this is a post-apocalyptic America, twenty-five years after an atomic war. He faces radiation, rough terrain, giant gila monsters, big bats, evil humans, storms that drop boulders and fish from the sky, and himself. It’s paced well and reads quickly. In other words, this is pulp fiction, and that’s unusual for Zelazny.

2. But it’s not entirely pulp fiction. Hell contemplates his own actions and place in the world, questioning his past life and wondering what comes next. This isn’t moralizing because Hell doesn’t go in for that, but it is turning a new leaf. He begins resisting changes, yet throughout the novel he changes, or realizes things about himself that he’s hidden from himself. The road, I’m sure, the solitude, his time in prison, the adrenaline and boredom—Hell finds out all about Hell. Hell actually feels bad a couple of times, for others, and this is a big change from the Hell the novel opens with. And I think that’s the theme here: at the end of the day, we still have to live with ourselves. It seems perhaps a little obvious in a post-apocalyptic tale, but I see this theme in Hell throughout as well, so to me it is the most apparent theme. However, it doesn't take up much space within the book. Of course, the theme of anti-nuclear war also pervades: this isn’t a glorification of the post-apocalypse, it tends towards a dark existence.

3. The writing doesn’t disappoint, but it also doesn’t thrill as much as in Lord of Light or Creatures. Here it’s refreshingly simple—Raymond Chandler-esque, rather than his typical poetic sentence structures and word choices. It moves the reader, but along such familiar, well-tread paths of adventure that the writing is not good for being groundbreaking, it’s good for perfecting the pulp voice—like Chandler. I just opened to a random page and started this next quotation anywhere to give you an idea of the writing; it occurs as Hell is driving past a hot crater:
He hurried. And he wondered as he sped, the gauge rising before him: What had it been like on that day, Whenever? That day when a tiny sun had lain upon this spot and fought with, and for a time beaten, the brightness of the other in the sky, before it sank slowly into its sudden burrow? He tried to imagine it, succeeded, then tried to put it out of his mind and couldn’t. How do you put out the fires that burn forever? He wished that he knew. There’d been so many different places to go then, and he liked to move around.

What had it been like in the old days, when a man could just jump on his bike and cut out for a new town whenever he wanted? And nobody emptying buckets of crap on you from out of the sky? He felt cheated, which was not a new feeling for him, but it made him curse even longer than usual.

He lit a cigarette when he’d finally rounded the crater, and he smiled for the first time in months as the radiation gauge began to fall once more. Before many miles, he saw tall grasses swaying about him, and not too long after that he began to see trees.
This is great efficient writing. This efficiency doesn’t lack for beauty, where somebody like Asimov misses beauty consistently in his striving for efficiency. I really enjoy this book as a straight, efficient story that doesn’t disallow beauty.

4. The character of Hell is fairly standard Zelazny, according to the other three books of his that I have read. They all feature superhuman male characters as the lead, and so does this one. But this one is less superhuman, and he’s constantly questioning himself, which leads to him being more sympathetic to the reader. Aside from this, Hell is also an iconoclastic character, a badass who relies on violence and surprise to stay alive in a dangerous world. Yet he’s also a criminal turning more square. This creates an interesting tension that assists the straight plot in driving the story forward.

5. In all, I love this book. It reads quickly and beautifully. It tells the story and doesn’t worry about too many implications to distract or bore the reader through lengthy interior monologues, but has just enough introspection to keep the reader’s mind engaged. It is really good pulp fiction, not terribly complex, but paced well and with an interesting main character. This is the type of book that non-Zelazny fans would probably like—I think it has a much wider appeal than Creatures or This Immortal. Think Alfred Bester and Raymond Chandler—and what a combination that is here! This book was nominated for the Novella Hugo in 1968, but lost out to two books. If those are better than this, I’ll have to read them soon. [This ebook is currently available free until 1 March 2016.]

10 February, 2016

Crowned: The Sign of the Dragon: Book 1 by Mary Soon Lee

0. Because this book is so unique, I will briefly describe what this book is: it is part novel and part poetry collection; it is narrative and trying to balance all this at once.

1. First things first: never have I wanted to judge a book by its cover more than I want to judge this one. The book is the first part of a narrative fantasy poem cycle. The cover illustration is fine, sure: it looks expensive and it’s two of the main characters. It’s certainly a nerdy illustration stuck awkwardly between photorealism and stylistic abstraction. But the audience aren’t artists, so the illustration is probably fine, I guess. That font though, every time I see it I laugh. Oh man, that font. It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen since art college. Is that supposed to be hot lava? Is it just a pattern? What is that? What is it trying to communicate? I asked a friend who does book covers for a living and he doesn’t know what that font is trying to do. So I showed this cover to a friend who also writes fantasy poetry and has been published alongside Mary Soon Lee, and their initial response was that it looks like it’s from a vanity press—which I don’t believe it is. Granted, my poet friend had one and a half beers in them at the time, but fantasy poetry is what they write—who else is the prime audience for this? Yet even my friend found this cover laughable. Another friend said, “if I saw that in the bookstore, I’d pick it up to see if the writing was as bad as that cover.” So the cover makes everybody laugh. It’s rough. But I read some of the poems in this book that have been published in online magazines, and they were great, so I sat down to read this book and I devoured it. I read this book like my life depended on it. And now I simply have to figure out why: that’s what these notes are for.

2. The writing straddles a line between legible efficiency and beautiful language. It’s conversational and uses common words, but it works with the poetic tactics of assonance, consonance, listing, repetition. For instance, in the opening poem, certain phrases stand out:
He walked half-blind; sleet kissed
his forehead. The wind said sleep.

He sang to drown it, sang hymns,
nursery songs, drinking songs,

dirges, ballads, marching tunes,
the love songs his mother had favored

(she who was bartered for peace
to a man she’d never met).
This example indicates the whole fairly: using common words and sentence structures in ways that create the mood exceptionally well. Sleet kisses. The young boy scared and sure of impending death desperately sings to stave off the temptation to lie down and die. The shift in focus at the end (more on this later).
—This isn’t all of it though: the book typically communicates by shifting back and forth between explicitly telling the reader what’s happening, “sleet kissed his forehead”, and showing the reader things:
She landed beside him, her breath ash,
snow steaming from her wings.
Instead of saying, “a female dragon landed beside him,” or describing the detailed event of “suddenly: some huge wurm descended from the shivering snowstorm and shook the ground with its landing;” this passage describes the effect she has on the context: she takes up space near the boy, her breath scents the air with ash, and the snow that falls on her steams and melts. This technique evokes the mood of her landing, the surprise of it and the senses assaulted by it. There is strangeness to a dragon coming out of the snow storm sky and speaking to a boy, and by showing this, Lee communicates the wonder that could have been lessened by telling: the situation, the description, and the word choices work together to give the reader this sense of the fantastic and the situation. This is strong writing.
—And then, at the end of that first poem, it shifts focus to much later, with the king and queen in bed, where Lee reveals the influence of this episode on the king’s personality:
(Years later, on a spring morning,
his queen asked, greatly daring,

about the woman whose name he cried
in his sleep. “Not a woman,” he said,

his heart on the mountain
where he entered his kingship.)
There is a profundity to the poetry in these focus shifts. Lee peers under the surface of fantasy to spot motivations that seem truer than typical writer’s—especially speculative writers who rely so much on violence as a motivator when most readers’ lives really aren’t that physically violent.
—In brief review, the writing: uses common words and sentence structures matched to poetic tactics to make the reading of words enjoyable; effortlessly switches back and forth between showing and telling to capture wonder and still keep things understandable; and grapples profoundly with normal motivations from abnormal situations to tell a story that feels mostly honest to human psychology. Let me be clear that I’m not calling this groundbreaking poetry: it’s not pushing the envelope or cutting an edge. But it’s solid. I would liken her poetic voice to those who use common language and never stray too far from making sense on first reading. At the end she writes, “I am unhappily aware that many of these poems are deficient in poetry.” And I agree, but the book is not a book of poetry: it is a narrative that uses poetic tactics to tell the story. In this context, these poems work.

3. At the end, Lee states that she thinks the main character is too perfect: “I have been warned repeatedly that Xau is too perfect.” This is something that writers talk about a lot. A perfect character, with no faults, is lackluster to read and ensures the author will face accusations of writing for wish-fulfillment. Xau is almost faultless, or at least we do not see many of his faults here. Because of Xau's lack of faults, other characters grab the reader’s interest more: the Red King, some of Xau's guards, the unnamed soldier on the other side, the unnamed soldier who claims to have killed a dragon, the Red King's woman. But for such a short book, Xau’s perfectness doesn’t reduce my enjoyment significantly. Now if he remains so perfect throughout the coming books, I’ll be annoyed. However, real faults exist in the disconnect between an era of horses and the contemporary context: for instance, Xau is kind, but it often comes off like egalitarianism. There is a tiny nod towards propriety being a key element to interacting with Xau, but egalitarianism in a king who willingly took a crown to rule over his people is incongruous. I do not get the sense of the time period attempting to be portrayed. Rather, it's ambiguously stuck somewhere between now and then.

4. But the plotting somewhat excuses the perfectness: Xau is impulsive and his impulses drive certain portions of the plot, he is tempted to imperfect actions, he rebukes and supports minor characters in intriguing ways, and the growing relationship with his wife looks at arranged marriages through a slightly sardonic lense. These plot developments help keep messianic Xau from being too overpowering in the book’s readability.

5. Lee tackles themes of duty, respect, and mystery. Xau’s coronation ceremony on the mountain is left mysterious and his connection to horses and cranes never gets fully explained. The chapters about his guards, or the courtesan, discuss duty and it’s implications. But I think respect is a driving theme throughout—the Red King attacks to knock the new king down a head from his honeymoon with his country; the interactions of his council and his wife also deal distinctly with respect and how to act on it. And I think that’s probably Lee’s main theme: discussing how respect is earned and given—even to one’s own self.

6. So, the main character is too perfect while the poetry isn’t, the plot sustains the story while the disconnect between the medieval mind and contemporary culture threatens to break the reader’s interest. But in all, I really enjoyed this book. The cover will scare most readers off, but the book itself, for what it is as a poetic fantasy narrative, actually works better than I expected. I look forward to the next one. You can read many of these poems here, or find where many of them were published here.

05 February, 2016

Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny

1. Zelazny’s storytelling appears messy and barely legible. This isn’t neccesarily a fault: David Lynch practices non-linear storytelling and gets away with it easily, in my book. So my question is not whether Zelazny’s storytelling is good or bad, it’s whether the puzzle he creates is worth it for the reader or not. Let me describe the storytelling first.
—Zelazny jumps around quite a bit: short chapters, a number of characters, and various places all contribute to this sense of jumping around. He also begins chapters with no introduction. There is almost no intro-info-dump in any chapter, and what little there is simply describes the environment of the scene to come. However, there are so many places involved in this novel, and Zelazny’s method of description is so mysterious that even these descriptions do little to increase reader comprehension. Chapters also follow different characters, jumping back and forth. And it’s not always clear which character is which right off the bat because of Zelazny’s descriptions. Again, I want to stress that mystery is not a negative to me. But Zelazny jumps around. He does appear to be moving linearly though.
—So what is Zelazny going for? Why the mystery? Options typically include: attempting to impress the reader with the author’s intelligence, trying to give the reader that “ah ha” moment partyway through the novel, poor storytelling, and attempting to win a certain audience by being mysterious. This novel seems like mystery for mystery’s sake—trying to attract and keep readers who like having their mind working while they’re reading. And it pulls this off.
—Does it pay off? I simply don’t know. I was personally left with a desire to have more understanding at the end, but I enjoyed the journey quite a bit. There’s something to be said for that, but I know a lot of people who would hate this book.

2. Zelazny’s mysterious descriptions rely on perception almost entirely. Zelazny warns the reader of the coming mysteriousness in the first lines of the first chapter:
The man walks through his Thousandyear Eve in the House of the Dead. If you could look about the enormous room through which he walks, you couldn’t see a thing. It is far too dark for eyes to be of value.

For this dark time, we’ll simply refer to him as “the man.”

There are two reasons for this:

First, he fits the general and generally accepted description of an unmodified, male, human-model being—walking upright, having opposable thumbs and possessing the other typical characteristics of the profession; and second, because his name has been taken from him.

There is no need to be more specific at this point.
This description tells us three things explicitly: the man exists, has no name, and is at his Thousandyear Eve; he is in the House of the Dead, which might be where he spent the last nine hundred and ninety-nine years; and Zelazny sees no need to be more specific yet. However, this isn’t much information, nor is it very illuminative to the reader. Who is this man? What is the House of the Dead and what is it made of? Where is it? Why are we following him? Why should specifics be left for later? How does he not have a name? Four of these six questions are answered later. I’m still unsure why specifics needed to be left, and I’m also unsure what the House of the Dead is made of. Throughout the novel, even explanatory descriptions continue to be focused on perception:
Listen to the world. It is called Blis, and it is not hard to hear at all: The sounds may be laughter, sighs, contented belches. They may be the clog-clog of machinery or beating hearts. They may be footsteps, footsteps, the sound of a kiss, a slap, the cry of a baby. Music. Music, perhaps. The sound of typewriter keys through the Black Daddy Night, consciousness kissing paper only? Perhaps. Then forget the sounds and the words and look at the world.

First, colors: Name one. Red? There’s a riverbank that color, green stream hauled between, snagged on purple rocks. Yellow and gray and black is the city in the distance. Here in the open field, both sides of the river, are pavilions. Pick any color—they’re all about.
This example shows Zelazny’s typical descriptive technique. He describes a perceived aspect of the thing in order to set the mood: here it’s a riot of colors and noises. But the descriptions are mysterious because Zelazny sticks mostly to showing. Sure, he later tells that Blis is busy and full of people, but at the time of the description, this riot of colors and life could be for many reasons: it could be a penal colony, a life-rich world, a place where people have loud voices and love colors, or Zelazny’s instruction to forget the sounds could signify that this world is lifeless, as if the people there have left. It’s open. He narrows it later, but initially all is left open. In other words, Zelazny relies upon showing instead of telling, and only uses telling when he needs to narrow the possibilities to hint at the plot: like when Anubis explains the function of the House of Life and the House of the Dead, or when Zelazny tells us that Blis is crowded. Confusing this is how Zelazny often dips into second person and tells the reader what he is showing them. In short, his mysterious writing supports the mystery of the storytelling and plot.

3. The characterizations are weak: there are a lot of main characters for only two hundred pages of novel: the Prince, the poet, the Steel General, the Witch, Magra, the Warrior Priest, Anubis, Osiris, a sentient dark horse shadow—you get the idea. Each secondary character also has goals that come into play, like the Minotaur and Cerberus. This keeps the novel busy, but doesn’t allow the characters to really be developed fully. This could be viewed two ways: either Zelazny didn’t build his characters well, they’re still two dimensional; or he is trying support the mystery of the plot through having all these characters and goals.

4. And the plot might be why Zelazny is so evasive in this novel: it’s a mythical mystery novel set in a science fiction world that takes the form of Egyptian Cosmogony. Both Horus and “the man” are sent forth to kill a man of many names who was once a Prince and nobody knows where he is. Certain characters are both brothers and fathers to each other due to time travelling. The plot is a mystery and the strangeness of the storytelling and descriptions and characters all feed directly into that, supporting the unknown and making it seem planned rather than random, despite the jumping storyline.

5. However, the writing is superb. I’ve given two lengthy examples already, and will only add that the quality continues throughout. Zelazny, with word choice and sentence structure, is continually interesting and beautiful. The writing breaks into poem at times. Repetitions are spread throughout the novel, and one is even explained. He’s a wonderful writer and that is why I enjoyed the novel as much as I did.

6. The theme here is difficult to nail down, with all this mystery. So maybe it is the mystery itself: maybe the theme is that the world and God both work in mysterious ways. God is referred to as that Whatever who may be or may not be. The mystery is probably the theme here: it exists and must be worked with to be successful.

7. I think I’ve given a good overview of what it’s like to read this novel: strange and mysterious and beautiful. And that’s about all I can say. I was enjoying myself so much that I read it in two sittings. But the novel is ambiguous and if you need to know what’s happening, this novel is not for you.