do androids dream of electric sheep? | a book review

“Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.”

a few days ago i finished philip k. dick’s do androids dream of electric sheep? and enjoyed it immensely. prior to this book, the only work of PKD’s that i’d read was his essay “how to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later,” which i liked a lot but was more philosophical in nature. i don’t read that much science fiction – i think the last time i loved a sci-fi novel as much as this one was ender’s game, which i read years ago – but i wanted to go more into the genre since a few of my friends are taking a science fiction class at school this year.

and this book was so good. i think part of my enjoyment comes from the timing alone. my schedule last week was chaos, and i needed something that i could dip into and out of easily during any breaks i had between classes, at the bus stop, during lunch, and so on. do androids dream of electric sheep? was a perfect choice. the story’s incredibly action-packed and fast-paced. even though i don’t usually like sci-fi, i couldn’t stop reading; it was like watching a film and i loved it.*

PKD is no salman rushdie or donna tartt, but his writing is super readable and easy to understand. also, while do androids dream of electric sheep? is traditional science fiction, we do get extensive introspection from the main character, rick deckard. that was my favorite part of the story: deckard’s thought processes. the entire narrative takes place in a single day. in the morning deckard’s a bounty hunter – a cop with crude cop’s hands, as his wife iran puts it, whose job is to destroy rogue androids. by the end of the novel he literally becomes the epitome of empathy. he continually questions himself as he takes on his assignment of six nexus-6 androids, the latest model that’s more human-like than ever before.

what is the line between humans and androids? it was empathy, but even that is blurred when deckard meets rachael rosen, who turns out to be an android as well. there’s a terrifying, reality-shattering moment when he goes to an opera house to retire luba luft, an alleged nexus-6. she successfully avoids taking the voight-kampff test (the only reliable empathy test people on earth have to identify androids) and calls the police on deckard after accusing him of perversion. he’s then arrested and taken to a police station that he – a veteran bounty hunter – has never, ever seen before. here i had to pause and wonder if that was the twist – that deckard himself was actually an android with false memories. (he isn’t, but the twist following his arrest is pretty great.)

there were definitely a few issues with this book. the story flies by so quickly that i felt like PKD told us, rather than showed us, his characters. we are told that dave holden was the best bounty hunter in his department before he was shot by the third nexus-6. we are told that iran loves shopping too much to save money for a real animal. we are told that deckard falls in love with rachael rosen in the span of two pages. i found this last part particularly unnecessary; given the foci of the novel on post-war life on earth, the role of media in society, and moral issues concerning humans and androids, the romance between deckard and rachael feels contrived. i could easily see deckard learning to empathize with androids after watching luba luft perform. his change in perspective didn’t have to be because of rachael.

at first i didn’t understand why animals were such a prominent status symbol. couldn’t they use clones instead of electric replicas? then it was revealed that androids only had a life span of about four years since scientists hadn’t figured out cell replication, so the fixation on real animals made a lot more sense. also, how did the empathy box work? setting mercer aside, how were people able to physically share each other’s emotions and sustain wounds from their collective climb? i had to reread the part where deckard fuses with mercer before i understood what was happening. i couldn’t bring myself to believe buster friendly, either, since he could’ve been propagating fake news (haha, get it?) in order to ruin mercer, who was technically his rival.

ultimately, however, the problems i had with do androids dream of electric sheep? didn’t hamper my reading experience. i’m honestly still shocked by how much i loved this book. it’s a short read with crisp language, a fascinating plot, and a surprisingly satisfying ending.

4/5 stars – besides the timing, the title of this book alone boosts my rating by half a star.

have you read this book? what are your thoughts? also, do you have any science fiction recommendations?

 

*i don’t think i’ll ever watch blade runner, though. apparently there’s more emphasis on visuals than on the characters, and the plot of the movie deviates wildly from that of the book.

thoughts on translation

It started when I wrote an essay explaining the phrase 阳光灿烂, which is one of my favorites in Chinese. It’s difficult to describe just how beautiful I find 阳光灿烂: the literal English translation is ‘brilliant sunlight,’ but when the four characters (yáng guāng càn làn) filter through my teeth the way light filters through leaves, when I see the sun at the front, the mountains, the fires that rage in between, and the smoke that shrouds flowers on the mountainside as they burst into flame, I know that ‘brilliant’ is only an adequate translation, nothing more. There are nuances to the phrase that exist only on paper, in the original language; English loses the neat precision and perfect square aesthetic of the four characters.

Later, I read an article in which the author, who’s from Mainland China, describes her deliberate erasure of Chinese in order to fully embrace English. I’m still unsettled when I think about it now. Politics aside, Chinese is an elegant and ancient thing, crafted with artistry in mind. A mere two to four characters can hold boatloads of wisdom and meaning. How can anyone choose to forget this language for English? To be fair, English is just as fascinating and complex, if not even more so, since we can continually add words from different languages to our vocabulary and create exceptions to any rule we have. But wouldn’t it be better to know both languages intimately? There was a quote I came across that went along the lines of, “Everything I know about language is everything I know about life.”* So the more you forget, the less language you know, and your world just – shrinks.

I mean, I know where the author’s coming from. Whenever I visited China when I was younger, even if it was only for a few weeks, my conversational English always deteriorated. I could still write in English quite well, since I kept (and still keep) notebooks wherever I went, but I’d forgotten “how to English” and became proportionally better at speaking (and reading and typing) Chinese. It’s so easy to focus on mastering one language and forgetting others through disuse. But I think it’s important to know more than one language, particularly if your first is English. In this globalized era, everyone knows English. And that can be awesome and convenient, but I’m afraid that if we’re all monolinguals, we’ll miss much of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

There’s another kind of translation that I keep thinking about, lately – the translation of thoughts into words. For me, at least, there’s disconnect between what I think, what I want to say, and what I actually end up saying. This disconnect got Darcy in trouble with Elizabeth, and he had to fix it with a written letter. And this makes sense, since writing gives you time to contemplate, to take back mistakes. I can articulate my thoughts on paper so much more eloquently and fully than I can ever speak them, and it can be frustrating, especially when I meet people for the first time and I struggle to talk to them. It’s like my mouth opens and words nonsensically and uncontrollably tumble out of my mouth. But what happens when the writing stops? If I stop keeping a journal, if I don’t document my thought processes in written form, do those thoughts cease to exist? What if in the future, my notebooks are posthumously published? People will judge me based on what I’ve written, even if it was originally in private – think not just of Kafka, Plath, and Nin, but also of Shostakovich, Warhol, and Napoleon, among so many other figures in our history. Notebooks provide insight, but only if you write in them. Didion, in The Year of Magical Thinking, is able to revisit both her life and that of her husband’s through the extensive records they’d both kept – notebooks and index cards, paper scraps and Word documents. My fear of forgetting is one reason why I keep writing. I don’t want to lose my grasp on Chinese, and I don’t want to lose my thoughts. To lose those things is to lose parts of myself.

In school, we recently covered a unit over translated poetry. We read different versions each of Rumi’s poetry (in snippets) and Borges’s “Historia de la noche,” then discussed what was more important in interpretation – accuracy or poetics. When you translate, what do you abandon and what do you preserve? How well do you need to know the language you work with? (Nabokov knew English and Russian with equal fluency, and he translated his own work, thus retaining the original intent of his writing. The same goes for Samuel Beckett with English and French. So I wonder what I miss when I read the English version of Camus’s The Stranger, Rilke’s poetry, or Ocampo’s short stories – anything written and translated by two different people.) For our assignment, we had to translate a poem from a language in which we’re at least familiar. I chose a poem by 骆绮兰, a female poet from eighteen-century China. This particular piece happens to come from a set of eight, called《纪梦诗八首》 (“Record of Dreams, Eight Poems”), so you can probably tell why I was attracted to it.

I haven’t formally studied Chinese for a year now, so it felt nice to return to it. This translation’s not perfect, of course, but I like to think it’s fairly accurate. I loved the imagery she evokes here; in preserving that, I ended up with a more literal interpretation. I hope you like it!

dream3luoqilan

*I just Googled this quote to verify the source, but all I got were Tumblr posts for some reason?? If any of you recognize this quote, please comment below or message me!

the year of magical thinking | a book review

from my bookstagram

from my bookstagram

last year i made a belated new year’s resolution to talk more about the things i read instead of simply rating them out of five stars. i’ve learned since then that it’s much easier for me to accomplish something if i don’t ~officially~ commit to it first – i know that sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s apparently how productivity works for me. for example, i decided to read 66 books last year on goodreads and failed, whereas this year i lowered the bar to 36 books, and i’ve already finished six even though we’re only halfway through january (!!!). hence, no real ‘2017 new year’s resolutions’ post from me this time.

2017 is the year i want to read more nonfiction – both books and essays – and poetry. i’ve had a surprisingly good time with nonfiction in the past. one book that’s influenced me the most is peter ostwald’s biography of glenn gould, which i read two years ago. last summer i read joan didion’s slouching towards bethlehem, “how to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later” by philip k. dick, and marjane satrapi’s persepolis, which were all amazing reads. i want to continue this trend and learn more about everything – politics and race and food and music and finance and botany and more.

the year of magical thinking was the first book i read this year. i don’t know much about joan didion’s background besides what i’ve learned from STB and this novel, but her writing is as clear and detailed as ever. she guides you through her year of magical thinking after her husband dies, and her language indicates that: allusions to poetry and myths, her unwillingness to donate her husband’s shoes (because then he wouldn’t be able to wear them if he returned), the vortex in her memories that always leads her back to her living husband and healthy child.

didion’s certainly privileged. you can feel it through the places she’s been and the people she knows, but as much as that might disconnect the reader (as it disconnected me, at first), she doesn’t rub it in your face. she’s relating her personal experience with grief, and if her closest friends and clearest memories happen to be celebrities and glitzy cities, she only mentions it as context before focusing on the topic at hand: grief, or mourning, or the warning signs she thinks she should have heeded before december 30, 2003.

when i read TYOMT i was reminded of bluets by maggie nelson. didion does with grief what nelson failed to do with the color blue. while i thought nelson’s writing was lovely, it seemed to lack something – coherence or resolution, i still can’t say. when i finished bluets i felt as though the author hadn’t really written the book, that there was another version of bluets that hadn’t been published yet (but would be, eventually), and this version was just an outline. nelson drops facts about the color blue, litters her segments with allusions and beautifully-styled sentences, but ultimately goes back to a topic (her love life?) that isn’t really about the color at all.

on the other hand, didion picks apart the concepts of grief and mourning and death, and she doesn’t skim over topics the way nelson does. she explains medical terms that doctors tell her about her daughter, quintana. she returns repeatedly to the night john gregory dunne slumps over dinner, a movement so sudden that didion first registers it as a joke. (you sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.) she studies the literature of grief, not just the novels and the poetry and the rituals, but also the medical papers and the psych studies and the etiquette handbooks, how society currently encourages hiding sorrow as something shameful and perceives grief as a form of self-pity.

the documentation in TYOMT is unbelievable. how many notebooks did didion keep? she and dunne seem to have made records of nearly everything – planners, notebooks, marginalia, kitchen books, microsoft word documents, a box with lines three-year-old quintana had said. it frightens me. when will i experience that grief? i can anticipate it, i can imagine it, but how broken will i be when it finally happens to me? have i written enough to leave a record of whoever has left? have i recorded enough of my life, shared with theirs, to somehow resurrect them?

this is a wonderful read, objectively, but it becomes a necessary one when you have experienced devastating loss yourself. simply reading TYOMT made me feel an overwhelming sadness – i tend to empathize, maybe overly so, with whatever i’m reading. however, i think my timing was off with TYOMT. i loved it, but i didn’t need it. i haven’t yet experienced the death of a loved one. this book offers the most to those who are in the process of grieving, offering not closure (“i realize as i write this that i do not want to finish this account,” didion says) but an exploration of an experience the bereaved alone feel.

4.8/5 stars. you should definitely read TYOMT when you get the chance (and listen to this song). if you have read it, what are your thoughts?

 

 

joanna

You walk down a gently sloping hill towards a field. The sun turns dusty, waist-high grass into gold. Joanna’s singing is unpolished and lovely, leading you forward as if she’s taken you by the arm. Her songs are full of strings. You can’t separate harp from harpist – her voice swings and creaks, studded with notes plucked by deft fingers. Somewhere in the distance, an orchestra swells like the tide.

When you’d first heard her you were startled by how childlike Joanna had sounded, but you know better now. She may sing sweetly, and animals may populate her songs, but her voice belies her wisdom.

One moment you watch a bird fly across a breathy sky – the next, an angel flaps its wings. The universe looms, and you suddenly face the staggering weight of the stars. All the while, Joanna’s harp sings; her voice scratches out high notes.

She offers you one story, a second, a fifth. Hens and horses and lions flicker in and out, half-hidden in the grass and entranced by the light. You could never resist her poetry.

You let her lift you out of your loss and offer you hers in solidarity. Her verses struggle to contain the chaos of life and light and allusion within them, and the music expands to fill the gaping hole between your bones.

Each story bleeds into the next like water. The river she conjures runs against time’s gradient while Joanna’s voice surges and cracks with raw emotion. Ursula splashes her way into the night sky. Ocean waves yawn for a moment, and you glimpse the beautiful remains of a sunken city. You imagine sprawling buildings and solid stone ramparts, marble columns that withstood sea currents and bridges that held fast no matter how much they swung and creaked underwater.

Joanna’s music rings in your ears. It’s steeped in sunshine from above the water’s surface, but you know, deep down, that its light is meant to swallow grief.

Closing your eyes, you remember walking towards a field of dusty gold. As words fail you, a harp sings and creaks and pulls you close, wrapping you with warmth.

~
(more…)

placeholder nine

you find the book quite early one morning and laugh at bad puns. too many too little, not enough time, thyme, a clockwork garden, a hot summer’s day with the water shut off and broccoli dying under the sun. environmentalism, what is. what is not is the brief hope that this will last a while longer because this is finite, unstoppable, because now is the time to throw words out and bring colors in. this is when hyphenations like ‘sun-kissed’ and ‘sun-drenched’ and ‘sun-strained’ come to mind, when air grows cool and trees shed seas of flaming leaves at the end of january. every other sentence is a lie, with the rest lifted from a stale repetitive repository. remember bridges. step into the courtyard, careful not to trip over the ledge where your grandfather broke his leg and his heart. everything is stone. cold: the fishes quiver. a motorcycle last used in 2005. remember to keep your chin up when you swim through a rainwatered living room. remember fruit candies, beaded numbers. remember not to cry when the smell of urine hits like starvation. everywhere is water. compared to others, your book tastes like viciously luscious cake. the architecture is the same; so are those tears. sight, a privilege, wanders permanently when lost. someone breaks open a guitar and takes the sounds inside. dancing ensues.
(eventually you’ll learn to love these floating faces. you’ll learn to love your dreams.)

tell the wolves i’m home

 

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seen at wellesley books, summer 2016.

tell the wolves i’m home

author: carol rifka brunt

goodreads summary:

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

i don’t know where to start. all i can say is that tell the wolves i’m home is a lovely, lovely book, and the best i have read in a long time. the novel is full of smooth, poetic prose, beautiful and not overdone. i won’t include any excerpts here, but i will tell you that there are many – too many – that are quote-worthy, and that you should read this book. there are vibrant characters and an engrossing story overshadowed by certain realistic issues that can’t be ignored.

i can relate to june. i can relate to her passion for her interests, her loneliness, and what she thinks is “wrong love, embarrassing love.” the characters are so alive. not just june, who matures naturally throughout the book, or toby, finn’s lover. the sister dynamic between june and greta is so real that the tension leading up to their reconciliation punched me in the gut. i loved their relationship, and its ups and downs, the most. and june’s parents are there as well, developed and fleshed out and not cardboard caricatures at all. even ben dellahunt, who takes an interest in june, has his own life and hobbies outside of june’s story. and toby. toby is my favorite character. he’s seemingly ordinary and drab, but is actually amazing in his own quiet way. he has golden hands, and can make all sorts of what he calls his “fiddly-hand things.” i wish there had been more focus on toby and finn’s relationship before finn’s death because they seemed to be so happy and in love – i want to know more. finn seems to come alive, too, through june’s flashbacks and stories told by toby and june’s mother. i loved how finn and june always listened to mozart’s requiem, and how it only added to the beautiful closeness they shared. toby and june first come together and bond over memories of finn, then slowly move on to cherish each other as themselves, and not as extensions of their first love. june’s revelation about her relationship with toby was just another stab to the heart, along with everything else that happens in this book. there are so many fine details here, mixed with emotions and truths that the characters learn to accept by the end.

it took me a day to read this book, and i was an emotional wreck when i finished. it is now one of my absolute favorites. this review doesn’t do the book any justice (so it will probably be edited over time as i try to properly express my thoughts). please, please read it and tell me what you think.

also, please listen to mozart’s requiem while reading. it fits the atmosphere perfectly.

rating: 5/5 stars.

a past life

take time to touch
the ticking thoughts

our years flew by,
drowned in tears and reflected
in a bowl of ginger tea masochism

a camaraderie claimed
to be everlasting
fell apart like delicate gossamer
at the hands of the clock.

we aimed for the moon
and became shooting stars,
but there was no forever
on which we could land.

sometimes we think before we speak, but not often enough

Everyone is born with wings.
People usually learn how to fly by the time they’ve matured, physically and mentally. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Being able to soar through the sky, knowing where to go and how to get there, is proof of success and the happiness that follows, the ultimate goal. But for some reason, I feel like someone tore at my wings while I was still in an inchoate stage of development. I’ve toppled into the sea without any means of rescue, and I can already feel myself slowly, slowly drowning. I’m tired, sometimes sad, and always suffocating from the monotony that faces me. When did the hopelessness first worm its way into my life? When did I begin to choke on the water that endlessly swirled around me? I don’t remember, can’t remember, and sometimes, I wonder if the salt water that stings my eyes is from the ocean or from my own uncontrollable tears. And above is me is the sun, so pointlessly bright and high in the sky that it’s a miracle I haven’t yet snapped under the pressure.

camp nano thoughts

two weeks ago, i randomly checked my inbox to find the following email at the top of the list.

Your creative retreat awaits.

it was a lovely surprise.

this year, camp nanowrimo will take place in april and july. if i decide to take part (and it’s likely that i will), this will be my second year and third time doing the camp version of nanowrimo. it will be even better than janowrimo, especially because it retains the same coziness and sense of community – “i’m not the only one!” – despite not being as official as the one in november. camp! cabins! s’mores! nature! writing! with flexibilities! (and of course, surreptitious forum-lurking.)

Welcome to the fourth year of Camp NaNoWriMo!

We first imagined Camp simply as an off-season alternative to National Novel Writing Month, but it’s evolved into much more than that: writers choose their own projects—from novel sequels to scripts to pop-up books—and find cabin communities (and often new friends) to support them.

We call it a retreat because you can write anything here, plus see what you’re capable of when you have the time and space to create.

Last year, we introduced flexible word-count goals (10,000 to 999,999) and the ability to add your own project genre. Our 2014 features are designed to make Camp even more open-ended:

Remodeled, ultra-hyphy cabins. Share your triumphs with more fellow writers: cabins now accommodate 12 campers. Worried that’ll be too much conversation to keep track of? We’ve also added @replies to the cabin message board. Set your preferences before March 25 to claim your bunk.

Full project-defining power. Now, you can select your genre and category. Working on a collection of swashbuckling tales? “Adventure Short Stories” will be shown on your profile. Writing presidential haikus? You can proudly display your choice of “Historical Poetry.” Create and edit your project here.

One-click access to the big world of Camp. Hanging with cabin mates is great, but there are about 20,000 other campers to meet, too. Find quick links to our blog, Facebook, and Twitter in your cabin and on the homepage.

A new T-shirt, a full stock of merchandise, and updated donation levels. The shirt is gorgeously candlelit, plus there’s a twig pen! And as always, we have an array of web and social media graphics to show your Camp spirit.

The writing starts on April 1, and we’ll have plenty more to share before then. For now, start thinking about what you’d like to work on. Remember: this is your creative retreat.

how awesome does that sound??

that email was a perfectly-timed reminder – coincidentally, my dream novel (whose first draft i completed during nanowrimo 2012) has been growing on me again. suddenly, there’s an outlining notebook open in front of me, and i’m focusing more on my characters and story arcs than on schoolwork (not exactly a good thing). i’m completely rewriting this story of mine (which from here will be referred to as ‘sans titre,’ fancy french for ‘untitled’), keeping only the cast and key plot points. i’m actually planning the novel this time so that i won’t deviate from my original goals or fall into writer’s block the way i had in nano ‘12 (which i pantsed).

i’m exhausted from school. i’m stressed about life. my first state standardized test is on the last day of march.

this will be a chance to write, and, more importantly, a chance to get away from all of that. (i don’t have my priorities straight, if you haven’t noticed already. oops.)

are you excited for this? i know i am!

-ktc

(by the way, i’m happy to report that I feel so much better today. c:)

 

never let me go

earlier this week, i finished kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go.

two years ago, i stumbled upon this quote while browsing the literature posts on tumblr:

“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.”

i instantly fell in love with that quote. really, who wouldn’t? it struck a chord within me, and i suddenly wanted to sit down and read the novel it came from. however, it wasn’t that easy; i finally seized the chance to read never let me go in december 2013, and took my time. it isn’t science fiction, in my opinion, but rather surrealistic fiction with some sci-fi elements mixed in. i loved how kath narrated in such a conversational manner, but there were times when i had to go back and reread certain parts in order to understand the chronological flow. there were some plot holes, too, though these were minor and easily overlooked. overall, the story was wonderful. i loved kath, tommy, ruth, and the intricate relationship between them. i also loved the setting; i hope someday to visit norfolk, england, and maybe read a book or take some photos while i’m there.

and that quote is still one of my favorites.