Future Golems

Kelly messaged me one morning: She and Louie would like me to read Kiln People, and then post a review. Louie had read the book, and thought I might enjoy it. Kelly had not read it, and will decide if it’s worth reading based on my review.

OK, here goes.

Kiln People, by David Brin, was published in 2002.

The 560+ page novel starts off with: “It’s hard to stay cordial while fighting for your life, even when your life doesn’t amount to much. Even when you’re just a lump of clay.

Kiln PeopleThe book jumps right into the story, with all its future-speak. One of Albert’s dittos is being assaulted by a gang of Beta’s dittos. ditAlbert manages to escape and find a group of Albert’s friends just before his 24-hour life ends. The ditto’s body falls apart, but his brain is intact, so realAlbert is able to inload.

Albert Morris is a private detective. He lives in a time when people are able to make clay copies of themselves, fairly cheaply. These copies (called “dittos” or “golems”) are “outloaded” with the personality, and all the memories, of their original (referred to as “rigs” or “archies” – as in “archetype”) up to the time of the duplication. The ditto has a life span of one day. The ditto and the rig lead separate lives, forming two sets of memories. At the end of the ditto’s life, the rig can, if they wish, “inload” the ditto’s memories into their own. A rig can use a ditto in order to experience risky things without the risks, or a rig can create a ditto to clean the house while the rig goes out and has fun. “No need even to tell it what to do. It already knows. It’s you.

Why choose between going to the office or taking the day off, when you can do both?

It’s a world with nine billion rigs and ten to twenty billion golems.

Besides the obvious connection to the Jewish legend of the Golem, the book draws some not-so-obvious historical analogies that make the idea of making clay copies of yourself seem like a logical step in the evolution of human technology.

Because of the dangerous nature of his work, detective Albert Morris makes frequent use of dittos. For years, he’s been trying to catch an archie known only as “Beta”, who has been kidnapping dittos in order to make bootleg dittos, in violation of copyright laws.

Albert Morris specializes in ditnapping. Then, one day, he’s hired to investigate an actual kidnapping. It’s not a ditnapping – it’s the kidnapping of an archie. The victim is one of the co-founders of Universal Kilns, the company that created the society-changing technology behind dittos. The victim’s family is sure he’s been kidnapped, even though, after a month, there’s been no ransom demands. The police are sure he’s simply run away from the world. (Given the ubiquity of  private lens and publicams, it seems impossible that anyone could run away without witnesses.)

realAlbert and his ditAlberts eventually find that the mystery goes much further.

Kiln People is a noir detective story. (Albert Morris even wears a trench coat and fedora.) It’s a science fiction story based on some hard science. It’s a well-crafted world that shows the author put a lot of thought into all the little implications of creating copies of yourself. (It’s best to avoid eye contact with your golem. If you inload, you’re going to remember that glance from both sides, and most people find that experience too upsetting – similar to déjà vu, but a whole lot worse.)

Every time I’d wonder, “What’s to prevent someone from…”, the book has an answer for how the system can’t be misused. This book even has answers for problems I hadn’t even thought of. David Brin has it all mapped out.

Kiln People is also full of humor. For instance, there are these things called “dinobuses” – awesome public transport vehicles with a cockpit attached to a long, mobile neck. “Every kid dreams of becoming a bus driver when he grows up,” the book tells us.

Kiln People is full of puns. At a free medical clinic for dittos, a sign reads: “Helping the Kneady.” (By the way, why have a medical facility for temporary beings? The book answers that question, too.)

Kiln People was a slow read for me. A lot of ideas, philosophy, and world-building gets crammed into a day in the life of a ditto. The book switches points of view between realAlbert and the various ditAlberts. A scene involving a ditAlbert will be presented later from a different ditAlbert’s viewpoint, with a different set of knowledge, and yet it’s all Albert Morris. I got lost a few times.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I would have enjoyed it a little more if it were a couple of hundred pages shorter. There were times when it felt like the story was wrapping up, and that we’ve solved the mystery, and I couldn’t imagine how it could keep going, and yet it kept going.

Do I recommend Kiln People? I felt it was overly long, and tough to follow at times (which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily), but the cleverness and the telling of the story far outweighed any quibbles I had. So, yes, I recommend it.

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Real life imitates art: I started reading Kiln People on a paperback I borrowed from the library. The thickness of the book made it a little awkward to hold during a bus commute. So I downloaded the eBook version to my phone – much better. So, for a while, I was reading the same novel on two copies. Which of these two copies was the archie and which was the ditto, I wondered. (There were no holds on the book, so I didn’t feel guilty about having checked out two copies.) I eventually returned the paperback, and read the eBook exclusively. When I was a little over 1200 ePages into the 1409 ePage eBook, I had just two days left on my loan. I couldn’t renew the loan, but I could place a hold for another copy. I was told I was first in line for the one copy that was currently checked out – that copy, of course, was checked out by me. Whenever I returned it, I would be able to borrow it. It was as if I was two versions of me.

Fun With Libby

I’m currently reading a library book on my phone, with the Libby by Overdrive app. It’s a large novel with a lot of philosophy going on in it. It’s taking me forever to read it.

On Saturday, I had over 400 ePages to go. The eBook was due back in 4 days. I didn’t think I would be able to finish it in time, so I decided to renew my loan. The app told me it was too soon to renew, and that I’d be able to renew in 1 day.

On Sunday, the book was due back in 3 days. I tried to renew it. The app told me it was too soon to renew, and that I’d be able to renew in 1 day. Guessing that it was measuring days by the time I checked it out, I tried later in the day. I still had 1 day until I’d be able to renew.

(I wonder now, as I write this post, if it didn’t count Saturday as a day, since the physical libraries were closed.)

This morning, the book was due back in 2 days. I tried to renew it. The app told me it was too soon to renew, and that I’d be able to renew in 1 day. I tried again during my mid-morning break. There was a big red button that said “Renew”. I clicked it. The app told me I couldn’t renew it. It offered me two option: Place a hold on the eBook, or return it to the library. I placed a hold.

I was number 1 in line for the hold. There was 1 copy, and it was currently borrowed.

Of course, that one copy was borrowed by me. As soon as my loan expires, my hold will begin.

I returned the book two days early. A little while later, it was back on my phone for another 20 days. And the app somehow knew what page I’d left off at. Libby by Overdrive may be weird at times, but it’s also pretty awesome.

A Boy Called Kafka

Kafka on the Shore was originally published in 2002. It is Haruki Murakami’s tenth novel.

The odd-numbered chapters of this novel tell the story of a 15-year-old boy who runs away from home. It wasn’t an impulsive act. It was something he’d been planning for years, with the help of a boy called Crow. The runaway boy chooses the city of Takamatsu, where the climate is warm, and where no one would think to look for him. He takes on the alias Kafka Tamura. He finds shelter in a private library, open to anyone who wants to come in and read, owned by patrons of the arts. The head librarian, Miss Saeki, was briefly famous for recording one hit song, named Kafka on the Shore. Kafka Tamura’s story is told in the first-person.

The even-numbered chapters begin with the transcript of a declassified document from U.S. Army Intelligence. It tells of a 1944 incident in Japanese town (whose name has been deleted from the records). An object, initially thought to be an American B-29, appeared in the sky, and a group of sixteen school children, out on a field trip to pick mushrooms, all collapse, unconscious, leaving only the teacher awake. The story jumps forward with the story of one of those school children, now sixty years old. His name is Mr. Nakata. Before the incident in 1944, he was a good student, with excellent grades. Now, Mr. Nakata describes himself as “not very bright”. The incident wiped his memory. He can no longer read or write. He has difficulty understanding things like money or geography. The incident also gave him the ability to communicate with cats. He uses that ability to earn a little extra money by finding lost cats for people. Mr. Nakata’s story is told in the third-person.

This novel is often categorized as “magic realism” – something I had previously known only as a style used by Gabriel García Máquez, and some other Central and South American authors. Some odd things happen in an otherwise realistic setting. In Kafka on the Shore (both the novel and the song), fish rain down from the sky. The ghost of a living person walks the earth. A character named Johnnie Walker, who dresses just like the guy on the whiskey bottle, but isn’t the Johnnie Walker, steals cats’ souls. There’s a pimp named Colonel Sanders, who dresses just like the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and may (or may not) be the Colonel Sanders.

Kafka on the Shore is a huge and complex novel. It contains several mysteries, many clues, and no obvious answers. I don’t know what this book is about, exactly, but I enjoyed the ride.

Along the way, we meet Oshima, a young transgender gay man, with hemophilia, who runs the library, and befriends Kafka. There’s Hoshino, a truck driver, who befriends Mr. Nakata and risks a lot to help Nakata find whatever it is he’s looking for. There’s Sakura, a girl Kafka meets on a bus, who doesn’t seem to have a large role in the story, yet seems important to the plot.

It’s a love story.

It’s a coming-of-age story.

It is a quest.

There are some disturbing scenes in this book. There is also beauty.

I loved this book – not as much as 1Q84 or Norwegian Wood – but it kept me a Muakami fan.

Also, here’s a jazz cover of Miss Saeki’s hit song:

Fly, Girl

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith, was published in 2008.

(Sherri L. Smith also wrote Orleans, which I’d read for Popsugar’s 2017 Reading Challenge.)

It’s December, 1941. Ida Mae Jones loves to fly. Her daddy taught her to fly in his old Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”. When daddy died in a farming accident last year, Ida Mae had wanted to take over his crop dusting business. Her grandfather took her to Tuskegee, Alabama, to get her pilot’s license. Ida Mae passed the flying test, but the instructor refused to issue a license to a woman.

Now, Ida Mae Jones has a job cleaning a white family’s house in New Orleans, Louisiana. She plans to use the money she earns to sneak off to Chicago, where there’s a flight school run by colored pilots. Maybe they will issue Ida Mae her pilot’s license.

On the bus ride home to Slidell, Ida Mae learns that the Japanese army has attacked the US military base in Hawaii.

It’s August, 1943. Ida Mae’s brother, Thomas, had left medical school to fight in the war. Due to gas rationing, daddy’s Jenny is up on blocks. Ida Mae can no longer fly, with or without a license. She’s still cleaning houses with her friend Jolene.

flygirlThen she reads about a new program named the Women Airforce Service Pilots. The US Army is training women to ferry airplanes from the factories to army bases, freeing the men to do the more important job of fighting  the war.

It’s Ida Mae Jones’ chance to fly again, as well as serve her country. There’s just one, big problem: WASP is open to white women only. Even if, by some miracle, the army lets a colored girl in, the town of Sweetwater, Texas certainly won’t.

Ida Mae’s skin is light enough that she’s sometimes mistaken for a white woman. With Jolene’s help, Ida Mae alters her daddy’s old pilot’s license, puts her name and photograph on it, and mails off her application. Of course, she doesn’t tell her mama what she’s done.

Ida Mae Jones passes for white, passes the initial interview, and is accepted into the WASP program. Mama is angry, but resigns to the fact that there’s no stopping her daughter.

Ida Mae Jones is following her dream, and she’s scared out of her mind. She’s scared that her skin will tan too much in the Texan sun, or that her hair will lose its straightening. (Her grandfather suggested that she tell people she’s part Spanish.) She develops friendships with her a couple of her fellow WASP, and feels guilty that she cheated her way into the program. (The author points out that the acronym WASP is both singular and plural.)

If her true race is discovered while on base, Ida Mae could be facing jail time. If it’s discovered off-base, she could be killed.

Flygirl follows Ida Mae’s life and training in the WASP program. It’s a civilian program, run by the US Army, but not truly a part of the military. The male instructors, mostly civilians, are not happy about training gals for jobs men should be doing. WASP often fly experimental airplanes, but since they’re not military personnel, the army won’t pay benefits if they’re injured or killed. WASP risk their safety so soldiers won’t have to.

Flygirl is a wonderful novel. I enjoyed it.

Another Green Book

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green, was published in 2006. It was his second novel. It was the fourth novel by John Green that I have read.

The first sentence of An Abundance of Katherines is: “The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.

Colin has dated nineteen girls in his life. All of them are named Katherine. All of them dumped him. Colin’s parents are sympathetic and offer support.

Colin is a prodigy, but not a genius. The book explains the difference: “Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; Geniuses do.” Colin wishes he was a genius. He decides that all he needs is one “eureka” moment to become a genius.

His best, and only, friend, Hassan Harbish, convinces Colin that what they need is a road trip. It will help Colin get over Katherine XIX, explains Hassan, and could possibly result in that “eureka” moment.

Colin’s parents think a road trip is a terrific idea. Colin has to lie to Hassan’s parents to get them to agree.

So Colin and Hassan leave Chicago on a road trip in Colin’s car – an enormous gray Oldsmobile named “Satan’s Hearse”. They get as far as Gutshot, Tennessee, where they meet a 17-year-old girl named Lindsey Lee Wells, who has dated only one boy in her life – a boy named Colin (whom Colin and Hassan name The Other Colin, or TOC). Colin and Hassan are employed by Lindsey’s mother, who owns a factory which manufactures tampon strings. Their job is to interview the residents of Gutshot for a history book Hollis (Lindsey’s mother) is writing.

Colin and Hassan adjust to their new lives in Gutshot, Tennessee. Colin works on a formula of past Katherines. He hopes to use it to chart the course of all romantic relationships, and produce his eureka moment.

Colin Singleton has a gift for words. He speaks eleven languages. He’s a genius at anagrams. (Although, as Lindsey points out, he makes words out of other words, but doesn’t invent new words, which makes him a prodigy, not a genius.) He once memorized the first ninety-nine digits of pi and then constructed a ninety-nine word sentence with the first letter of each word corresponding to the digits of pi. (The sentence begins with: “Catfish always drink alcoholic ether if begged…”)

Hassan Harbish is a practicing Muslim, who constantly teases Colin about his lack of religion. Hassan practices his own, unique version of Islam, however: He believes that alcohol is haram, for example, but drinking only half a can of beer with the local Gutshot kids should be allowed. Hassan is also a slacker, with no plans for college, or anything else in his life. He figures that his father is rich enough that he doesn’t have to do anything.

An Abundance of Katherines is a funny and touching novel. I enjoyed it a lot. The story is not always believable, but it’s a comedy that doesn’t try to be entirely realistic. The book is clever, and makes humorous use of footnotes. (The Libby app handles footnotes well, by the way.) Sometimes a footnote will add additional information, like explaining who Archduke Franz Ferdinand was, or will go off on a tangent, like providing a brief history of television, or will just add a comment like “It’s true.”, or will contain the entire ninety-nine word sentence Colin wrote. There’s a lot of seemingly random trivia in this book.

Midway through the novel, I became curious about whether Gutshot, Tennessee is a real town, or not. As I suspected, it’s a fictional place. I did find something interesting in my search, however: There’s a list on Goodreads named “Books set in Gutshot, Tennessee”. The list contains just one book.

I want to read another John Green novel, but a different book has arrived at the library for me.

Norwegian Wood

I’ve finished reading Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (the author of 1Q84).

I’d learned from YouTube that it’s one of his earlier novels (first published in 1987), and that it doesn’t contain the “magic realism” elements that are typical of his style. I picked it because, unlike other Murakami books at the library, it was available for immediate download.

The story starts with the middle-aged narrator, Toru Watanabe, on an airplane, landing in Hamburg. He hears an instrumental cover of the Beatles song Norwegian Wood, and it brings on some bittersweet memories.

Most of the rest of the book is a flashback to the late 1960s, when Watanabe was in college. He’s best friends with classmates Kizuki and Naoko (Kizuki’s girlfriend). The trio get along great together, but when Watanabe and Naoko are alone without Kizuki, the two of them can’t seem to come up with anything to talk about.

The book follows Watanabe’s college life, his strange roommate, his friends, and his one-night stands. The hippie movement and student protests were part of campus life, but Watanabe participated in neither one.

Toru Watanabe describes himself as an average man, with average abilities and interests. He’s a fan of classic American literature, especially The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said that you can’t trust any man who describes himself as average.

Kizuki kills himself on his 17th birthday, leaving behind no clue as to why. Watanabe and Naoko begin taking long Sunday walks together, gradually growing closer together. Right after her 20th birthday, Naoko checks herself into a sanatorium in the countryside.

Watanabe meets a classmate named Midori, who is an outgoing, uninhibited free spirit – in many ways the opposite of Watanabe. They spend time together, and Watanabe falls in love with her. When he tries to kiss her, Midori informs him that she has a boyfriend.

Watanabe visits Naoko in the sanatorium – a progressive institute where it’s often difficult for Watanabe to tell the doctors and patients apart. Watanabe meets Naoko’s roommate, Reiko. Over the next few days, Watanabe, Naoko, and Reiko become close friends.

Reiko helps Watanabe and Naoko define what their relationship is, as well as what it should be. Reiko also helps Watanabe sort out his feelings for Midori.

Despite the suicides (yes, more than one) and general gloom, Norwegian Wood is a beautiful novel. I enjoyed it a lot.

Reiko makes a passing remark, comparing Watanabe to Holden Caulfield (“that boy in Catcher in the Rye“), and quickly withdraws it, but I think that’s a pretty close comparison. Toru Watanabe is drifting through life, not really knowing what he’s looking for. He’s a borderline curmudgeon, but still a likable character.

There’s a circular quality to this novel, and that fascinates me. For instance, the way Watanabe keeps finding himself in three-way friendships, over and over.

Despite not having that element of magic that 1Q84 would have, there are some weird yet wonderful scenes in Norwegian Wood. I especially loved the scene where Watanabe and Midori are relaxing on the rooftop of Midori’s family’s bookstore, drinking beer and playing folk music, while watching the shop down the street burn.

Norwegian Wood is that type of novel that consists mainly of people sitting around talking, or sitting alone and thinking to themselves. It’s my kind of novel.

Norwegian Wood has one of the best endings I have read in a long time.

Fifty-Two Books

Well, I did it. I completed Popsugar’s 2017 Reading Challenge in 8 months, plus a few days. That’s 52 books in 248 days. That averages out to a book every 4.8 days. (There were some short books in there.)

The combination of having a goal, a deadline, and a commitment to document the completion of each book worked well for me.

There were books I liked, and books that didn’t thrill me. Some books disappointed me. I stuck to my self-imposed rule to complete every book I started for the Challenge, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. (I figured the point of a reading challenge is to be pushed out of one’s comfort zone.)

Here are ten books (in alphabetical order) I discovered, and fell in love with, along the way:

1Q84
Afterworlds
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion
Asleep
Bestest. Ramadan. Ever
The Dalai Lama’s Cat
The Ghost Bride
The Golem and the Jinni
Orleans
Saga, Volume One

I read fifty books for the first time. I read two books I’d read before (because the Categories required it).

Seven books were eBooks. Forty-four were physical books. One book was an audio recording (because the Category required it).

I read one book by a former President of the United States. I read one book written by a future President of the United States.

I read books originally published in the USA, in the UK, in France, in Finland, in Iceland, and in Japan. I read a book by an author who was born in South Africa, and a book by an author born in Zimbabwe. I read an American book written by a Dutch author.

I plan to do this reading challenge next year. There are plenty of reading challenges out there, but so far, I like Popsugar’s the best – it’s full of surprising and off-beat Categories.

A Family Member

Brothers, by Ralph Josiah Bardsley, was published in 2015. An internet search for “book with a family member term in the title” lead me to this book.

BrothersJamus Cork is a Bostonian by heart, but he is attending graduate school in New York City. He is enjoying life in New York. He meets a man, by chance, in a bar and they fall in love. Life in New York is wonderful.

Jamus has his life planned out. He will finish school, stay in New York, and be a writer.

Then, both of his parents die in a car crash. Jamus’ only brother, Nick, had been born just before Jamus left for college. Nick was three years old when their parents died.

Now, Jamus is back in the South End neighborhood of Boston, raising Nick on his own. This is not the life Jamus Cork was planning.

Jamus has a good job in a bookstore. He continues to write. He loves his brother, and does his best to be a good guardian. Still, Jamus has nightmares of the crash that killed his parents.

Brothers Jamus and Nick Cork are more like father and son.

Sean Malloy has finished graduate school in west Massachusetts, with a doctorate in Education. He’s returning to Boston. As he’s packing, Sean receives a phone call from his brother, Kevin. Kevin has just been honorably discharged from the Marines.

Brothers Sean and Kevin Malloy move back into their parents’ house in South Boston. Their two sisters live nearby. Sean’s teaching career is at odds with his family’s blue color background.

Grace Kinvara grew up in South Boston. She went to school with Sean and Kevin. Kevin had asked Grace to the prom, but she told him she was waiting for Sean to ask her. It caused a rift between the two brothers for a while. Sean didn’t ask her to the prom, however.

Now, Grace is still making romantic moves toward Sean, but he’s clearly not interested. Kevin can’t figure it out. Neither can Father Richards, who thinks Sean and Grace would make a wonderful couple.

Nick becomes a rebellious, tough teenager. He’s known, all his life, that his brother is gay, and, to him, it’s just who his brother is. Other kids are not so accepting. Nick gets into fights. During one fight, he calls his opponent, whose parents are from Nigeria, a racial slur. Nick is stopped by his English teacher, Mister Malloy, who calls Nick’s guardian in for a parent-teacher conference.

It’s not the first time Sean Malloy and Jamus Cork had met each other. They’d locked eyes during Mass once, and had had a casual conversation afterwards. Grace noticed the way Sean and Jamus had looked at each other.

More than halfway into this 250-page book, Sean and Jamus go on a date. It’s Jamus’ first date in ten years. Jamus is afraid to tell his bother that he’s going on a date with his English teacher. Sean is afraid to tell his brother that he’s going on a date with a man. Sean has never gone on a date with a man before.

Brothers is a pretty good novel. It was a little slow at times, and the ending wrapped up a little too neatly, I thought, but I enjoyed it, overall. It was full of side stories and plot twists, just enough to keep it interesting. It’s a character-driven story.

My favorite character was Nick, who grows from a child wondering why his brother takes him to the park alone, unlike the other “parents”, to a teenager wondering why his brother doesn’t keep any of his novels on the bookshelf at home. When he gets a copy of Angel of New York, Jamus’ most popular novel, Nick begins to wonder how much truth there is in the story of a gay street kid, high on drugs, who kills his family in a car crash.

  • A book with a family-member term in the title

Things Japanese

Yesterday, right before I left for work, I downloaded Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (author of 1Q84) onto my phone. I don’t have a lot of time for reading during my commute, but I’ve found that I enjoy reading a few pages along the way, and that I also enjoy reading on my phone.

The Seattle Public Library has a good selection of eBooks by Haruki Murakami, and I’d learned a little bit about his work from reviews on YouTube. I picked Norwegian Wood because it was available for immediate download.

Yesterday, at work, while listening to YouTube videos, I clicked on a “Recommended for you” video about a tiny apartment in Japan. That apartment was rented by an Australian named Emma, who goes by “Tokidoki Traveler”, who’s living in Tokyo. That lead me to Tokidoki Traveller’s channel. I watched (mostly listened to) a few of her videos. Along the way, I learned that there’s a whole genre of “ex-pats living in Japan” YouTube channels out there. My favorites, so far, are “Tokidoki Traveller” and “Rachel and Jun”. (I really miss “Texan in Tokyo“!) I’m sure there are channels by ex-pats living in countries other than Japan, but I haven’t yet figured out how to find them.

I came home from work, intending to write a blog post about my eBook download and the YouTube channel I’d discovered, but I got into Cities: Skylines and didn’t get around to blogging. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t get around to blogging yesterday, because last night, Phillip and I watched the latest in our Netflix queue: a Japanese anime named Tekkonkinkreet.

The film was gorgeous to look at. I wanted most of the background as a piece of artwork. Unfortunately, neither one of us liked the film. But, at least, it filled out a Japan-themed day quite nicely.

More Than 800 Pages

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami, was published, as a single volume, in 2011. The trade paperback edition of the novel, which I borrowed from the library, is 1,157 pages long.

1Q841Q84 was originally published in three volumes, between 2009 and 2010. Volumes 1 and 2 were translated from Japanese into English by Jay Rubin. Volume 3 was translated by Philip Gabriel.

Aomame’s name is written with the same characters as the word for “green peas”, and it’s pronounced with the same four syllables: “Ah-oh-mah-meh”. People have a hard time believing that that’s her real name, but it is. Her grandfather came from a village where a lot of people are supposedly named Aomame, but Aomame has never met another person with the same name as her.

Aomame is in the back of an unusually luxurious taxi. Janáček’s Sinfonietta is playing on the cab’s stereo. Aomama is lost in the music, until she remembers that she is heading for an important meeting, and they’re stuck in a traffic jam on a Tokyo expressway. She’s going to be late for her meeting. The cab driver gives her an “extreme” solution: Leave the cab, climb down the expressway maintenance ladder, to the street three stories below, and take the subway to her meeting.

Aomame pays her fare and as she leaves the taxi, in the middle of the expressway, the cab driver tells her: “Don’t let appearances fool you… There’s always only one reality.

Tengo has a memory from when he was one-and-a-half years old. A man, who is not his father, is sucking on his mother’s breasts. Tengo realizes it’s unusual to remember anything from such a young age. It’s even more unusual that he sees himself in the memory, as if reading a story in the third person.

Tengo has this memory often, and every time he does, it causes him to have a kind of seizure.

Tengo is in a café near Shinjuku Station when he has this vivid memory, and the resulting seizure. They both last about ten seconds. He’s in the café with his friend and mentor, Komatsu. They had been discussing an author named Fuka-Eri and her debut novel Air Chrysalis. It had been submitted to a new writers’ competition. Tengo and Komatsu agree that the novel is poorly written, certainly not a prize winner, and yet it’s a compelling book.

Komatsu is a magazine editor. Tengo is a school teacher, and part-time writer. The two met five years earlier, when Tengo submitted a piece for Komatsu’s magazine’s new writers’ competition. Komatsu informed Tengo that the piece was not good enough to win the competition, but showed enough potential that Komatsu offered to become Tengo’s mentor, judging everything Tengo wrote. Eventually, Komatsu hired Tengo as a screener for the new writers’ competition.

Komatsu presents an idea to Tengo: Air Chrysalis should be submitted to the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. It would have to be completely rewritten, however, and Komatsu suggests that Tengo do it. Tengo has skill but lacks imagination, Komatsu points out, while Fuka-Eri has imagination but lacks skill. Tengo rejects the idea. It sounds like committing fraud, he says.

As she descends the maintenance ladder, Aomame has a memory of a lesbian experimentation she once had with a classmate. The memory is vivid, and seems entwined with Janáček’s Sinfonietta, but she can’t remember what year it took place. In fact, she’s suddenly having difficulty remembering any dates at all. “It is now April 1984. I was born in… that’s it… 1954. I can remember that much.

On her way to the subway station, a police officer passes her. His uniform is the standard police uniform, but it’s slightly different. He’s carrying a sophisticated automatic weapon, instead of the typical revolver.

Aomame arrives at the hotel. She cleans herself up. She knocks on the door of room 426. She tells Mr. Miyama that she’s a member of the hotel staff, there to inspect a faulty air conditioner.

Aomame murders Mr. Miyama quietly and professionally. She leaves the hotel, looking like any other business woman. She leaves nothing behind that would suggest it was anything other than a heart attack.

Tengo meets with Fuka-Eri, still unsure whether he’ll take on Komatsu’s plan. Fuka-Eri is a 17-year old girl who doesn’t display many emotions. She speaks in short sentences, without inflection. She doesn’t go to Tengo’s school, but she’s attended a couple of his lectures. She doesn’t care much for literature, despite having written Air Chrysalis. She claims she didn’t submit the novel to the competition, but won’t say who did. She doesn’t care if Tengo rewrites her book or not. She doesn’t care much about anything. Suddenly, Tengo decides to do the rewrite. Fuka-Eri says that before he does, there’s someone he should meet. She won’t say who this person is until they meet him.

Aomame goes to a bar, and strikes up a conversation with a stranger. She asks him about the new police uniforms. The man remembers the change, but thinks it was a long time ago. The bartender tells them that the police updated their uniforms, and began carrying automatic weapons, about two years ago, following a confrontation with a militarized cult. It was quite a big story, he says. Aomame doesn’t remember that. She goes back to the man’s hotel room, and they have sex. Afterwards, she watches the news, and sees an update about the moon base being built as a joint project by the Soviet Union and the USA. This is the first time Aomame has heard of this moon base.

Aomame forms a hypothesis: Her world, or the whole world, has changed. It’s no longer 1984, she decides. It’s now something she names “1Q84”.

That’s the first hundred or so pages, less than ten percent of 1Q84.

When I picked up 1Q84 at the library, I had very little idea what it was about. I knew it had something to do with parallel worlds, or alternate realities, or something along those lines. But that’s all I knew. I guessed it might be science fiction, but I wasn’t even sure of that. I picked it for the Challenge mainly for its number of pages.

At the end of “Book 1”, 387 pages into the novel, I still had no idea where it was going, but I couldn’t put it down. It was reminding me, somewhat, of the TV show Lost. Everyday events become mystical. Details begin looking like clues to solve a mystery. But I didn’t even know what that mystery might be.

At the end of “Book 2”, at page 739, I began to understand how the worlds (whatever worlds those might be) of Aomame, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and Air Chrysalis were connected, but I still didn’t understand why they were connected. The book still had around 400 pages to go, and I didn’t know where it was going, and I didn’t want to put the book down.

I had been on a long waiting list at the library for this book, and I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to renew it, so I made plans for when my three-week loan would be up and I hadn’t finished the book. That didn’t happen. Reading 1Q84 was like binge-watching Lost. I’d open the book, intending to read a chapter, the story would take an unexpected twist, and I just had to keep reading to find out what that twist meant. I’d continue reading another chapter, and then another. I flew through the thousand pages in less than three weeks. I’ve never read a book that quickly – until now.

1Q84 is an amazing book. It’s a mystery, and a detective story, and a romance. It’s erotic (and quite graphic). I won’t tell you if it’s science fiction or not, because that would be spoiling it. The characters are fascinating and the story is compelling.

Actually, the story consumed me. It brought me into its world (or worlds) and wouldn’t let me go.

I absolutely loved 1Q84. It’s now one of my all-time favorite books.

  • A book that’s more than 800 pages