Essentialism - Greg McKeown
The main thing I got from this book is that I happen already embody its core precepts. It was interesting to get some soundbites and outside thinking on my previously subconscious behavior though.
Fiasco - Stanislaw Lem
I read Solaris. It was my favourite book of last year. Then I read The Invincible. It didn't quite reach the greatness of Solaris, but it's still good. Then I went for Fiasco.
There's still elements of what I love about Lem's writing in this the book. The creeping atmosphere, true consideration for what it might mean to be 'alien', and mysteries that are creatively untangled.
However, as the first part ends and we're propelled a century into the future, Lem seems to get bored of telling an engaging story and instead descends into 10 page, 'scientific' explanations of how all the technology in the book works.
He did this to some extent in the aforementioned books too, but they were less frequent and revolved around fundamental themes/events of the story. In Fiasco, he too often goes down mundane rabbit holes of little interest or importance. In doing so, he ruins the pacing of the book and atmosphere. It was like there was a section of science text book spliced into every chapter.
When, in the final chapter, you finally get to the event the whole book has been building up to, it's all over almost as soon as it begins and it blows up in the protagonist's face because... he's dumb basically. To summarise, he needs to check in with the mothership at an exact time lest they obliterate the alien planet he's currently on. He's told this with crystal clarity. And he reminds himself that it's almost time to do so just before he decides to jog a mile away from his radio. Guess what happens?
I do think it was clever how the first part of book metaphorically outlined how the main narrative would play out. The same foibles that plagued the protagonist in the first part come back to haunt him and cause his ultimate demise. And the exploration of people's nature to try to achieve, at any cost, a goal that has long since become fruitless or even perilous was interesting. But overall, it just didn't come together as well as I hoped.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - Phillip K. Dick
I was listing my issues about Fiasco to a friend and, on finding out I hadn't read any Phillip K. Dick, he suggested I read some of his work. After the last book, it was refreshing to read something that was all character and narrative with little to no fluff.
Our protagonist is a famous tonight show-esque host/singer/actor type. After a targeted attack, he wakes up in world where no-one know who he is and all traces of his physical and digital identity have evaporated. Whilst this a relatively engaging premise by itself, what gives it its real weight and tension is Dick's well realised, police state dystopia. In this world, who you are is everything. As a result, the protagonist goes from being interesting to the world because he's famous, to because he's a nobody.
My main criticism would be that whilst the central plot reveal was interesting, it was completely unpredictable not foreshadowed in any way. This makes it less satisfying to me. This was also a problem with the next book of Dick's I read.
Ubik - Phillip K. Dick
Great concept, underwhelming execution. Everything felt a little unfocused, like it was a draft rather than the final copy.
The book starts by making a big deal about a new psychic who has a never-before-seen power to change the past and thus the present. Despite her introductory fanfare, she is soon relegated to brief appearances/mentions and plays no role other than being a cheap red herring. As one of the most interesting characters, it's bit of a shame.
And interesting characters is what this book needs as almost all of them are under-developed. The reveal this time was at least minimally foreshadowed, but the end still felt rushed and underwhelming.