Aurora

Reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2013 novel Shaman (which I discussed here back in June 2014) reminded me of how much I enjoy Kim Stanley Robinson.  I was browsing YouTube one lazy weekend morning last Spring when I stumbled upon this video of Kim Stanley Robinson discussing the concept of his forthcoming novel, Aurora:

In eight minutes, Robinson had me chomping at the bit. His description of a multi-generational spaceship constructed with multiple biomes representing the major ecosystems of Earth fired my imagination in a way I had not experienced in a long time. The two months I had to wait until the book’s release felt long but finally July 7, 2015 arrived. I bought a copy at my local Barnes & Noble during my lunch break and began reading it that same evening. I cannot remember the last time I was so excited about a book that I bought and started reading it on release day.

There are some books one can read just for fun and other books that, like the works of Kim Stanley Robinson, require effort. That is part of what I enjoy so much about his novels. While they are not pulp science fiction, they are approachable. Robinson stops just short of being too difficult to comprehend or at least ponder. It is as though he expects his readers to possess above-average intelligence and rewards us with stories that challenge us to dream big.

When the story begins, the spaceship is already en route to Tau Ceti, a star system 12 light years from Earth. Because it will take a couple hundred years for the ship to reach the Tau Ceti system, the population of the ship at the beginning of the story is composed of the children of the children of the original travelers. That thought blew my mind. Imagine living your entire lifespan within the confines of a starship having never stood on real ground, having never breathed non-recycled air from a real atmosphere, and having never traveled to another country in a manner that did not involve simply opening the door from one part of the ship to another. How congested that environment must have felt.

As with all of the Kim Stanley Robinson novels I have read, the characters in Aurora are wonderfully realized. They are people with dreams and fears, ideas and doubts. They have goals that do not always align with the goals of others and the conflicts that arise are written in such a human way—quite the trick considering a computer is writing the narrative! How often do you hear readers complain that the characters in a particular novel or film do not talk the way people actually talk or do not behave the way real people would behave in stressful situations? You will hear none of that from readers of Aurora. Kim Stanley Robinson is masterful in his portrayal of the sociological and political machinations of people and populations.

The most fascinating aspect of this novel is the exploration of language. The majority of the novel is narrated by the ship’s computer. Encouraged by one of the ship’s crew to practice narrative style, the ship begins the story in a very simple manner, almost as though a child were writing the story. As the ship learns about narrative style, the narrative style of the book transforms. There are long passages early in the novel where the narration involves large blocks of information that, which factually accurate, may not be important to the story because the ship does not know if what it is narrating is important or how it fits into the story it is telling. The ship's musings on the flaws of human language, of metaphors and simile, add some welcome humor to the story. As the ship’s narrative skill improves, the novel itself becomes a gripping and sometimes heartbreaking tale of mankind’s journey to a distant star system in search of a habitable planetary body.

In the end, the story is about humanity’s interaction with its environment. It is a beautiful story and while it did not go where I thought it would go, I enjoyed it immensely. Kim Stanley Robinson has proven once again that he is one of our finest authors of speculative fiction.

All the Birds, Singing

On weekend mornings, I enjoy opening the window beside my writing desk and listening to bird songs while I sip a cup of coffee.  I find it to be a calming experience.  A chirping bird sounds so happy.  Ever since I was a child, watching birds in flight has filled me with an almost dizzying sense of relaxation, of freedom, of positivity.  In All the Birds, Singing however, birds are symbols of sorrow, of isolation, and of death.  Despite such themes, All the Birds, Singing is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time.  The novel, the second from Evie Wyld and for which she earned the 2013 Encore Award for Best Second Novel, is elegant with a fascinating story and an intriguing lead character.

An ominous opening line sets the stage:  “Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.”  Whoa.  What a great first sentence!  This tone flows through the entire novel, infusing it with dread and unease.  Even so, I found myself smiling often at the beauty of Wyld’s use of language and even laughing aloud as she mercifully injects moments of humor into the bleak story.  Some of the situations in which Wyld’s characters find themselves are so real and so ridiculously human (humanly ridiculous?) that one cannot help but feel empathy, and thus laugh.  Honestly, what does one shout at a charging sheep to frighten it away?  Such lighthearted moments are brief, however, for the storm clouds roll in fast and the story takes another dark step.  Like oranges in Coppola’s The Godfather, birds seem to always be there, warning of unpleasantness.

As much as a teenaged Jake feared her life would be mundane and ordinary, it seems to have been anything but.  It has been far from a happy life, though.  Jake Whyte, who sleeps with a hammer under her pillow, has suffered more than most people ever should.  She was dealt a rotten hand, but was made the best of it anyway, exhibiting a survival instinct that demands respect.  Throughout the novel, Jake expresses great empathy for animals.  Just as cruelty to animals is often a warning sign that a person may possess psychopathic tendencies, might the opposite be true?  Most humans have brought Jake nothing but trouble, but she recognizes the innocence and instinct of animal behavior.  Despite hints throughout the story that she had done something awful in her past, it is her treatment of animals that informed me of her good nature.

Jake’s story is told in two chronologically divergent timelines:  her present life moves forward, her history is told in reverse.  As we get to know the adult Jake, forced to grow up far too early and bearing physical scars to mirror the emotional ones, alternate chapters march us backward in time giving us a look at her younger years and the events that led to her to her present place of mind.  The promise of learning the true nature of Jake’s awful deed was a wonderfully effective carrot on a stick.

Whether we are in Jake’s present in the isolated English countryside or in Jake’s past in baked Australia, the setting is vibrant.  In Australia, the heat is omnipresent.  It dries the landscape and fries the flesh of the characters.  Reading Wyld’s descriptions of the Australian desert, I could feel the moisture evaporate from my pores.  My skin dried, my tongue swelled, and all I wanted was a gulp of cold water.  When in England, it seems to always rain, a permanent chill in the air.  I found myself wanting a shot of warming whiskey.  The scenes in England felt so dreary, the sky so low and dark compared to the high, blue Australian sky.  Both landscapes, as written by Wyld, are simultaneously beautiful as raw nature and dreadful as a human environment.

With All the Birds, Singing, Evie Wyld has leapt onto my list of authors to watch.  I am pleased to say I received a copy of her debut novel After the Fire, A Still Small Voice (her titles are poetic, yes?) as a gift so I have more Evie Wyld in my future.  I look forward to sitting with the book, steaming cup of coffee in hand as bird songs bespeaking of no ill omen at all drift through the open window.

One Second After

In the afterword to One Second After, William Forstchen’s novel of a small American town struggling to survive after an electromagnetic pulse disables all electronics in the United States, USN Captain William Sanders claims such an attack is possible, states that our nation is entirely unprepared for it and suggests this novel should serve as a wake-up call.  The author bio states William Forstchen holds a Ph.D. from Purdue in military history and the history of technology and is a professor of history at Montreat College in North Carolina so it is safe to say the man knows what he is talking about.  The story he crafts is scary in its authenticity, but I found the execution lacking.

Forstchen’s setting and the rippling effects of the EMP attack are the strongest aspects of his novel.  No electricity means no refrigeration which means rapidly spoiling food and medicines like insulin.  There are approximately six million American diabetes sufferers who require insulin and without it, they will die within a matter of weeks.  With our economy so largely dependent upon electronic transfer of currency, banks and retail cannot function.  When people are unable to access their money, they panic and panic breeds violence.  Commercial airliners, their systems dependent upon on-board electronics, fall from the skies.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there are approximately seven thousand airplanes in the air over the United States at any given time.  Many of those are commercial airliners with hundreds of passengers aboard.  Every modern road vehicle with a computer becomes a giant paperweight.  Roads and highways become as clogged as a bacon-lover’s arteries.  Even modern trains have computers.  No airplanes, trains, and road vehicles means no freight.  Food grown in the Midwest cannot be delivered to its destination and so it sits, rotting.  No fresh water, no telephones, no radio.  Entire cities and communities are cut off from the world.  The less moral among us begin to cause trouble just because they can.  They form gangs and terrorize, steal, rape, murder.  All of this is frighteningly and believably portrayed in One Second After.

I have huge issues with the novel, however.  It is patriotic in the extreme.  While I can appreciate the portrayal of American ingenuity, community, and resolve as the qualities that win the day, Forstchen takes it too far.  Several times, during heated arguments about the correct course of action, the less desirable option is rejected because “we are still Americans”.  How about argue that the a particular course of action is the right one to take and explain why instead of just saluting Old Glory and suggesting supporters of the alternative action are un-American?  This short-sighted and weak perspective is often used by people who are incapable of supporting their argument.  Further, people break into pro-America songs at the most ridiculous moments.  Think of the little girl suddenly singing “America the Beautiful” in the 1997 film The Postman.  It is a laughable scene in the film and it happens multiple times in One Second After.  I have never engaged in so much eye-rolling while reading a novel in my entire life.

I also had issues with Forstchen’s style and language, the most aggravating being the author’s unforgivable incorrect contractions of could have, should have, and would have.  The correct contraction of should have is should’ve, not should of as Forstchen writes.  It is not just a one-time mistake.  He does it every instance, of which there are many.  Yes, when spoken aloud, should’ve sounds like should of but this does not mean it is an acceptable spelling.  The error is so pervasive that it yanked me right out of the story every time it happened.  Some authors, notably John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, intentionally use incorrect language in dialogue to portray characters as uneducated.  Forstchen cannot claim this literary device.  None of his characters are illiterate bumpkins like Steinbeck’s Joad family.  This is just poor use of language and it is inexcusable. 

I found Forstchen’s dialogue attribution lazy.  Far too often, a character will join or begin a conversation and Forstchen, instead of surrounding the dialogue with action bringing the character into the scene, simply says It was [character name].  This dialogue attribution should be used sparingly.  I find it most effective when used to suggest other characters in the scene are surprised by the sudden appearance of the speaker.  Either Forstchen cannot write good description introducing a character to a scene or all of his characters live life being startled when anyone else speaks.

I like the premise of One Second After.  Forstchen’s small town setting is good.  His characters behave in a believable way given their rapidly deteriorating circumstances.  The novel is paced well and the story entertained me, but the points against it –poor style and super-saccharine patriotism— far outweigh the positives.  I strongly recommend Stephen King’s Under the Dome and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as superior end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stories.

100 Sideways Miles

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Mom read a review of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles in her local newspaper – she is olde tyme – that made the book sound like one of the funniest, most heartwarming novels to come along in a years.  She even clipped the article from the newspaper and mailed it to me ahead of the book shipment.  I wish I had saved that clipping and more than that, I wish I had read the same book the newspaper’s reviewer had read.  That book sounded wonderful.  The one I ended up with just did not click with me.

Finn Easton, the nice-guy teen protagonist of 100 Sideways Miles, suffers from epilepsy due to injuries sustained as a child in a freak accident that also claimed the life of his mother.  Due to Finn’s life-changing accident, the exact nature of which I will not spoil here, he has a unique perspective on life, measuring the passage of time in miles rather than minutes.  I had high hopes for a clever and perhaps enlightening implementation of this idea.  It ended up being a quirky but impotent character trait.  In fact, many aspects of this book felt impotent.  Finn sees the ghosts of two little girls a couple of times during the story, but nothing comes of it.  The ghosts don’t haunt him, they don’t save him from danger, he gains no insight.  What is the purpose of Finn seeing these ghosts?  Did I completely miss the point or is this just another odd thing in his life?

Finn’s best friend, Cade Hernandez, a star athlete and charismatic ladies’ man extraordinaire, almost completely repelled me in the early pages.  He is arrogant, a troublemaker, he drinks, he chews tobacco (people really still do that?!).  Basically, he is the kind of bad influence I would have avoided in high school.  Cade is, however, fiercely loyal to and protective of Finn, especially when Finn is having a seizure.  This quality redeems him and for this, I can forgive him his other faults.  He probably grows up to be a good guy.  Sure he is young, reckless and stupid now, but so was I when I was sixteen.  His brotherly relationship with Finn reminds me of my relationship with one of my own friends.  By the end of the novel, Cade ended up becoming my favorite character and that was a surprise.

A second strong character is transfer student and romantic interest Julia Bishop.  She and Finn latch onto each other early.  Their relationship is one of mutual respect and care and is as awkward and sweet as it needs to be.  Aside from the brotherly relationship between Cade and Finn, the relationship with Julia felt the most authentic and real, if perhaps a bit indulgent of teen male fantasy.

For no reason I could discern, Smith writes a couple of scenes as though they are a script.  It is random and pointless and irritated the heck out of me.  Had the scenes actually involved a stage play, then it might make sense to present the dialogue and action in this way, but these were scenes just like any other.  It is as though Smith grew bored of his own book and decided to switch up the format for a few pages just to be different.  One scene is just a conversation between Finn and his father and after rereading it, I see nothing leading or following the scene that supports its presentation as a stage play.  The second is a conversation between Cade and Finn.  At least this one is preceded by reference to the radio dramas soldiers in World War II listened to followed by “our own blank-screen radio theater played out as something like this”. If the entire reason the scene is written as a radio drama script is because WWII radio dramas were mentioned a sentence earlier, then the reason is as thin and weak as wet toilet paper.  Just write the scene.  If the scene is so weak that it needs to “punched up” by changing the format for no good reason, then cut the scene or rewrite it.

I haven’t been a teenager for twenty years, but I am fairly certain I did not say “Um” as often as Finn Easton does.  Even if I did and even if this is really how teens speak, it was gnash-my-teeth aggravating to have to read “Um” as his response to so many stimuli.  I get it that many of us precede a sentence with “um” or “err” or “ah” as we put our thoughts together but Finn Easton seems to be able to communicate a wide variety of thoughts and emotions by just saying “Um”.  Dad asks about Finn’s day.  “Um”.  Friend makes a joke.  “Um.”  Pretty girl talks to Finn.  “Um.”  (Actually, I completely understand this one.)  Museum attendant is a smart aleck.  “Um.”  Friend expresses concern for Finn.  “Um.”  On one hand, dialogue has to be authentic to be believable.  People have to talk the way people really talk, but an author can take this too far and I have to say Smith went overboard with Finn Easton’s use of “Um”.

On a positive note, I did learn something from 100 Sideways Miles.  The undershirt worn by baseball players, the shirts with the colored sleeves that extend up the shoulder to the collar, is called a raglan.  I did not know that, but now I do thanks to 100 Sideways Miles.

Character relationships are the strong point of 100 Sideways Miles, but they were not strong enough to save the story.  Ultimately, a disappointing book but I see enough talent in Andrew Smith that I am willing to give one of his other novels a chance.  Aforementioned friend recommends Winger so I will try that one with cautious optimism.

Ghostwritten

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I have had David Mitchell’s 1999 debut novel Ghostwritten on my to-read pile for far too long.  I bought it several years ago, shortly after finishing his wonderful Cloud Atlas, which is darn near a masterpiece in my opinion, but too many other books were in front of it on my list.  At some point though, I grew impatient and may have manipulated the composition of the pile itself to cause Ghostwritten to float to the top.

Much like Cloud Atlas – or perhaps I should say that Cloud Atlas is much like Ghostwritten in its construction – Mitchell’s debut is presented as a series of stories, each centered on a different character and with each character’s story somehow linked to the story of one or more of the others in the book.  These little Easter eggs scattered throughout the novel added an extra layer of entertainment and they engaged me as a reader more than if Ghostwritten was just a short story collection. If a character shows up for two pages and then leaves, I know I need to keep that character in mind because they might show up in someone else’s story several chapters later, or they might even be the primary character of a later chapter.  I love this!  What I find even more fun is that there are characters from other Mitchell novels in Ghostwritten and characters from Ghostwritten in other Mitchell novels.  This establishes all of his novels in the same world and while some enemies of fun would call this a gimmick, I call it a feature and an entertaining one at that.  I enjoy tracing these character appearances from one novel to the next. I am tempted to purchase every David Mitchell novel and read them in sequential order and then create a timeline. Oo, what if I set up a bulletin board with photos and pins and colored string to keep track of it all?  Yay, project! *giddy dance*

Ghostwritten’s chapters do form a connected narrative, but each is an excellent story on its own.  This is good because, even as I find delight in them, I often found myself questioning the purpose of these connections.  Why does Mitchell structure his novel in this way with a new primary character for each chapter?  Is the book about chance and randomness?  Is he making a statement about how we are all connected in some kind of universal Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon kind of way?  Even having finished my reading of the book, I am not certain I completely understand it.  I admit that makes me feel like a bit of a fool, especially considering how much I enjoyed the novel. I like the pretty colors!  What I do know is that David Mitchell’s novel is a series of wonderful stories of humankind.  In each of his characters, diverse in gender, age, environment, morality, and vocation, I found something to which I could relate or empathize.

I feel like I owe Ghostwritten a second read at some point.  Mitchell is a talented author so I feel like my lack of ultimate understanding is likely my fault and not his, especially considering I did most of my reading just before bed after a long work day.  Such an exhausted state of mind and body is not conducive to full comprehension of a clever story.  For now though, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed Ghostwritten and look forward to finding out which of its characters show up in David Mitchell’s next novel.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

I adore Pixar Animation films and that is hardly a unique opinion.  Ever since 1995’s Toy Story, almost every one of their films has connected with me in a deeply personal way.  The first ten minutes of Up wre-e-ecked me, as did the conclusion of Toy Story 3.  Pixar Animation is one of the world’s most successful film studios and not only because they employ wonderfully creative people.  It takes great management to bring all the pieces together to deliver a consistently superior product.

I heard great buzz about Creativity, Inc., Pixar President Ed Catmull’s book about his rise to his current position and his discussion of his management style.  It had been included on several business-related Best Of lists and my local Barnes & Noble had a whole shelf devoted to it.  Working in a management position myself, I am always on the lookout for guidance so a management book by the head of one of my favorite film studios piqued by interest.  Though Catmull states Creativity, Inc. is not a memoir, it certainly reads like one.  He delves into his past, discusses his dream of making the first computer-animated feature film, the relationships he developed and work he performed on his road to Pixar.  He brings you into the creative meetings, discusses the successes and failures at Pixar (did you know Toy Story 2 was almost scrapped?!).  It is a wonderful peek into one of my favorite companies.

Some of the management tips Catmull offers seem like common sense:  Establish a culture of open discussion and encourage all employees to share their ideas, treat others with respect and kindness.  I know some managers prefer a Machiavellian approach, a behavior I have witnessed first-hand and find disgusting and reproachable, but I would hope most people would already behave in the manner Catmull suggests.  This does not make Catmull’s advice dismissible.  I am just disappointed that there has to be a book about it.  These are not just guidelines for successful management.  They are guidelines for life in general.  The saddest part is that some people do not behave in this manner automatically.  Why is nasty the standard operating behavior for so many people?

“As leaders, we should think of ourselves as teachers and try to create companies in which teaching is seen as a valued way to contribute to the success of the whole.”

It is comforting to read about these nuggets of advice being successfully implemented at a profitable company.  I was about three-quarters of the way through the book when I had the sudden realization that it sure would have been a grand idea to write Catmull’s management tips down in bullet points so I could at least refer to them later.  Fortunately, Ed Catmull knew what I wanted before I did because there is an appendix called “Starting Points” that collects all of his suggestions in short, easily digestible reminders.  Some might be tempted to take a short cut and read just this appendix, but I urge prospective readers to take the time to experience Catmull’s book in its entirety. 

So here is my own “Starting Point”:  If you are already a collaborative manager who gives credit where credit is due, read this for the pleasant memoir and confirmation that your method works.  If you are on a power trip, read it to learn you don’t have to be a jerk to your employees to get them to work hard for you.  Maybe watch a Pixar film or two while you’re at it and learn compassion, cooperation, inspiration, loyalty, leadership, friendship.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

I am an unabashed fan of Patrick Rothfuss.  Having read his blog, followed him on various social networks, participated in his charity Worldbuilders, and watched several video interviews and his brief YouTube panel discussion program The Story Board, I can tell the man is just an all-around good man.  I adored his first novel, briefly titled The Name of the Wind, The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One.  The second book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day Two disappointed me, though it is still a good story.  Now Rothfuss gives us The Slow Regard of Silent Things, a novella centered on the enigmatic Auri, the young woman who lives in the Underthing, a network of passages and rooms and sewers beneath The University.  Auri is introduced in the first book of the series and is for me one of the most interesting characters in Rothfuss’s world.  When protagonist Kvothe first meets Auri in the first volume, she is timid and exhibits an almost feral behavior.  As Kvothe learns more about Auri, it becomes clear that she is a bit disturbed, off-kilter, though intelligent.  When with Auri, everything must be just so and one must observe proper manners or she will scurry away and disappear.  She is a curious character and one I’m very happy Rothfuss explored in this novella.

While reading this book, I was constantly amazed by Rothfuss’s ability to write so clearly from the perspective of a broken mind and make the pieces make sense.  After seeing her world through Auri’s inquisitive eyes, I felt like I began to understand her.  What most people would see as irrational behavior started to appear… reasonable?  No.  Not reasonable.  Not at all, but darn it, I could see what she was going through.  She’s off her rocker, but I wanted to be there.  What do most people do when they see what they perceive to be a mentally ill person in public?  Think back to the last time you were strutting down your own Main Street, mocha latte in hand, and ahead of you was one of those people – maybe they were pacing to and fro, touching the tree by the curb and then the top of the fire hydrant and then the tree and then the fire hydrant, tree, hydrant, tree, hydrant.  I think most of us avoid eye contact and accelerate, hoping they don’t try to talk to us and if they do try to talk to us, we ignore them and walk faster.  That can’t be just me.  I’m a good person.  I am!  Sigh.  Anyway, Auri is one of those people but Rothfuss makes me want to not speed past her.  I am not sure if that is empathy on my part or on the part of Patrick Rothfuss.  Probably his because he is such a talented storyteller.  But I’m still a good person.  Shut up.

I love Rothfuss’s titles.  This one, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, sounds like a Walt Whitman poem, is his best one yet.  It is a perfectly Auri title, sparking my curiosity, drawing me close and by the time the story was over, it made absolute sense to me, particularly with regard to Auri.

I initially wondered why this novella exists.  The author’s fans are clamoring for Day Three of the Chronicles.  Was Slow Regard a tease, an appetizer, a stop gap?  His own Author Foreword tells prospective buyers that they might not want the book.  He goes out of his way to dissuade folks from spending their money on it.  Rothfuss seems to worry that readers who are using Slow Regard as their introduction to him will be confused and dissatisfied with him and avoid his future work.  Personally, I think he is not giving himself his due credit.  On its own, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a quirky little story starring a quirky little character and it is quite enjoyable all on its own.  Having read the preceding novels, I had a bit of experience with Auri already so had an idea of what to expect, but I think an open-minded person reading this story in a vacuum would find the story and Auri odd and charming.  As for why the story exists at all, Rothfuss stated on his blog that it is too long to fit reasonably well within Day Three and so it made sense to release it on its own.  I’m awfully glad he made that decision and did not choose to kill this particular darling.

The Night Circus

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I wish I could remember my first visit to Disneyland.  I wish I had clear memories of the wonder and delight I must have felt at the sights and sounds and smells.  I wish I could recall the first time I entered a professional baseball stadium and saw for the first time the emerald green field stretching out before me.  There are so many experiences I wish I could have again for the first time.  These events are synonymous with childhood for many of us and until science develops a way for us to relive our memories, once these memories have faded, they are lost forever.  This is an overly sentimental way of me saying that the experience of reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus felt very much like what I imagine those first-time memories might be if I could recall them. 

What a delightful way to start the new year!  Elegantly written and rich with imagery, The Night Circus tantalized my senses the way no novel has before.  Morgenstern’s use of color and scent put me right in the middle of that circus.  I was there among the tents.  I could smell the popcorn and caramel apples and hot cocoa.  I don’t know that I have ever noticed an author’s costume design before, but as costumes are an important part of any circus’s visual impression, so too are the attire of Morgenstern’s characters whether they are at the circus or not.  I felt like I always had such a clear picture of what everybody looked like though Morgenstern does not spend much time describing what the characters look like, only their clothing.  My imagination invented the rest quite easily because the rest of the picture was so clear.

This is a different kind of circus.  There are no clowns, no tutu-bedecked bears riding unicycles.  This circus is magical and surreal.  There is a labyrinth, a vertical maze made of clouds, gardens of ice.  The circus draws people to it with an almost preternatural power.  A community of fans develops.  Calling themselves rêveurs, these fanatics wearing clothing items of red – a hat, a scarf – to identify them as members of the group and follow the circus from town to town.  After experiencing the circus myself, it is easy to see how such a community would develop.

Part love story, part mystery, The Night Circus takes place over a period of three decades during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and follows two different sets of characters – Marco and Celia, opponents in a magic competition and Bailey, a young boy who grows to love the mysterious and beautiful circus – at various points in their lives.  Peppered in between these stories is a series of second-person (you don’t see that very often) chapters describing your own experience in the circus, the conclusion of which surprised me and left me smiling.  The two third-person narratives were fascinating and exciting, each with a bit of intrigue to keep the pages turning.  For several nights, I found myself still awake reading way past the time I’d usually be asleep.  I just couldn’t put the book down.  It was a joy to read and I am sorry it is over.