Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Love, death, ghosts, and history. What a sad, funny, interesting and heart-squeezing novel.

From Wikipedia:

Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, my wife’s cousin pointed out to us a crypt on a hill and mentioned that, in 1862, while Abraham Lincoln was president, his beloved son, Willie, died, and was temporarily interred in that crypt, and that the grief-stricken Lincoln had, according to the newspapers of the day, entered the crypt “on several occasions” to hold the boy’s body. An image spontaneously leapt into my mind – a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pietà. I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read “Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt”, decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion, no commitments. My novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is the result of that attempt […].[10]

What must that feel like… to not only finally complete a project you’ve been thinking about for decades, but to also have it be so acclaimed?

I hope he feels proud, because it is great. I never would have though a book written in such a strange way could evoke such strong feelings, but it does. After a few pages of it, you don’t notice the strangeness as much. Or, you do, but it is no longer a hindrance. It blends into the feeling of it. The idea of dozens or hundreds of viewpoints coalescing into a single story of a single night.

I think anyone with an open mind could enjoy this book. The only people I’ve seen saying bad things about it are just complaining about the way it’s written, not what’s written.

The only minor complaint I had was how short it was. The 360 or so pages it claims would actually be probably half that, if each page were covered with words instead of having them spread out as it is formatted.

Read if you want something fresh and interesting and heartfelt!

Language is a tool not a box

After much recommendation, I am reading a book that on the surface is about a subject (American History) that holds mostly no interest for me. But boy is it good and weird and written in a strange way.

Would you read a novel made of citations? That’s what this seems to be… a large portion of it anyway. Also, the point of view changes every paragraph almost. And each paragraph (each POV, that is) is written in a different style. Some of them with no punctuation, misspellings, or odd capitalization, and each one signing off with their name at the end.

Example of citations:

The rich notes of the Marine Band in the apartments below came to the sick-room in soft, subdued murmurs, like the wild, faint sobbing of far-off spirits.

-Keckley, op. cit.

Willie lay in the “Prince of Wales” bedroom with its dark purple wall hangings and golden tassels.

-Epstein, op. cit.

The cheeks of his handsome round face were inflamed with fever. His feet moved restlessly beneath the maroon coverlet.

-In “History Close at Hand,” edited by Renard Kent, account of Mrs. Kate O’Brien.

Example of POV changes:

The lad, overawed, followed close behind us, looking this way and that.

-hans vollman

Well now I will give you A part of, or all of, if you like it, a Song my dear husband used to sing. Cauld it Adam and Eaves wedding Song. This Song was Sung by him at my sister’s wedding. He was much in the habit of making Songs and Singing of them and— Oh no, I won’t go no closer. Good day to you, sirs.

-mrs. elizabeth crawford

We had reached the edge of an uninhabited wilderness of some several hundred yards that ended in the dreaded iron fence.

-hans vollman

And the entire novel, so far, is written this way.

‘You can’t do that!’ shouts the English teacher. Well, the point of writing is to convey ideas, and this does that well, in its own way. If it works, it is allowed!

Why should we treat language like a fence around us? Uproot that fence and use its posts to carve your message into the ground!

Language is for using, not for obeying…

A modern afterlife

Several scientists in recent news articles have been stating that they think we live in a computer simulation. They think the odds of this are very high. What question that leaves unanswered, is whether we are a creation of whoever wrote the simulation, or if we are self inserts in the simulation. In other words, are we also simulations, or are we the creators of the simulation, living in it but without memory of entering it? The former seems much more likely.

What kind of world do the creators of our simulation live in? Is it an experiment forgotten about and left running? Is it known across the land by everyone? Is it someones personal project and they have complete control over it and us? Are there ‘simulations rights’ laws that would prevent our creator from abusing us for their own amusement?

Mostly this sounds like a terrible thought. One more afterlife to worry about…

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks: A hell of a story

This is the 8th Culture novel, and the third that I’ve read, and so far I think it’s the most memorable.

The story focuses on virtual reality, and mainly the virtual realities different civilizations create for their afterlives. Some of them being hells.

With the ability to record, copy and / or upload consciousness, comes the possibility of completely immersive  virtual reality, without even the need for a body. And in certain civilizations, after you die you may be subjected to a continued existence in hell–a virtual world created for the sole purpose of torturing those within it.

Many people (the Culture included) feel that hells are barbaric and uncivilized and should not be allowed, and war breaks out over the debate, the other side insisting they need the threat of the hells to keep their people in line.

This book really made me wonder about reality, and how we can even know it is real. There have been articles here and there, quoting scientists and other popular figures stating that they believe there is a good chance we are living in a virtual reality. But what would make it ‘virtual’? If it’s all we know, then it is all there is as far as we are concerned–isn’t that the definition of ‘real’?

It is a scary thought, though, to consider that we might be nothing but lines of code, able to be manipulated at a whim by whoever is in control of whatever program we are living in. And if whoever is controlling our world in this hypothetical is anything like us humans, then that could be a very terrifying situation indeed…