Review of Saman, by Ayu Utami

Saman, by Aya Utami is one of those paperbacks that has been on my shelf so long that I no longer remember how it got there. I’m imagine I bought it at some point, perhaps someone left it in the Little Free Library, I don’t know.

Description from Goodreads:

Saman is a story filtered through the lives of its feisty female protagonists and the enigmatic “hero” Saman. It is at once an expose of the oppression of plantation workers in South Sumatra, a lyrical quest to understand the place of religion and spirituality in contemporary lives, a playful exploration of female sexuality and a story about love in all its guises, while touching on all of Indonesia’s taboos: extramarital sex, political repression and the relationship between Christians and Muslims. 

Review:

I think maybe a lot of this just went over my head. I loved Saman as a character and I liked the others well enough. I recognized the thread that held them all together as a cast. I appreciate that the book pushed boundaries when published in Indonesia, touching on the cruelty and oppression in famers’ lives, repressive sexual attitudes, religion, transmigration and politics, etc. But in the actual reading of it, I thought the whole thing felt disjointed. At one point (about halfway through) I actually turned the book over to reread the synopsis to ensure it wasn’t actually a series of interconnected short stories. And the little twist at the end (especially the last two emails) came so out of left field that I was left baffled. For all that, there is some beautiful writing here and Saman is a character you can’t help but root for.

Review of Normal, by Warren Ellis

I borrowed a copy of Warren EllisNormal from the local library.

Description from Goodreads:

Some people call it “abyss gaze.” Gaze into the abyss all day and the abyss will gaze into you.

There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: Foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geoengineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.

For both types, if you’re good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it’s something you can’t do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the abyss gaze takes hold there’s only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.

When Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist, arrives at Normal Head, he is desperate to unplug and be immersed in sylvan silence. But then a patient goes missing from his locked bedroom, leaving nothing but a pile of insects in his wake. A staff investigation ensues; surveillance becomes total. As the mystery of the disappeared man unravels in Warren Ellis’s Normal, Adam uncovers a conspiracy that calls into question the core principles of how and why we think about the future–and the past, and the now.

Review:

I read this in one sitting and really enjoyed it. I liked the way you could feel how fragile Adam is and how aware of their own brokenness the other inmate/patients are. The book also manages to pack quite a lot of commentary on the current-future state of earth and society into a small number of pages, largely without ever overtly speaking to any individual topic.

Review of The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark

I borrowed a copy of P. Djèlí Clark‘s The Haunting of Tram Car 015 from the local library.

Description from Goodreads:

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 returns to the alternate Cairo of Clark’s short fiction, where humans live and work alongside otherworldly beings; the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities handles the issues that can arise between the magical and the mundane. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed. 

Review:

This was only a novella. So, here’s a short review for a short book. I basically loved this. I adored Hamed and his new partner Onsi. I loved the setting and the world. I thought the dialogue was sharp and the story satisfying. My only complaint is that on occasion I felt like the tone of the dialogue was inconsistent. But for the most part I just loved this.

There is also a free short story called A Dead Djinn in Cairo, on the Tor website, that is set in the same world, with a minor crossover of characters. I loved it and recommend reading it.