Read For: The Women of Science Fiction book club
This month's book club selection didn't intrigue me all that much. I had never heard about it before then (not very surprising -- there are few book club picks that I've previously heard about) and the summary didn't grab my interest. However, I had resolved to read as many book club picks this year as I could, and it's really not all that long *anyway*, so I picked it up and hoped for the best.
It's not my favorite read of the year, but it's by no means a bad novel. I think a large part of the problem is that I'm so under-read in science fiction that I can't appreciate a lot of what's been done here. This review won't be too long, but I'll try to talk about every character's perspective and talk about what I liked, what I didn't like, and what I felt completely indifferent about. Indifferent is a good way to describe how I felt about this novel as a whole actually; I didn't dislike, but it was mostly forgettable for me and there wasn't a whole lot that I *loved*. I don't promise that this review will be spoiler-free, but to be honest, it's kind of a hard book to spoil. Either way, if you're paranoid, just skip to "Final Verdict" at the end of the review.
All right, I'll start with Zhang's perspective, since he has the most chapters and is the obvious focus of the novel. To be completely honest, I found Zhang's story to be the least engaging. He doesn't know what he wants through most of the novel, and when things DO seem to go his way (like when he gets to go to China and gets an awesome placement) he never seems to be very happy. He is relatable in that he does lack direction, and a lot of people do go through that kind, so in that way he's a likable character, but other than that, I found him kind of bland. He goes from place to place (to Baffin Island, to China, back to New York) and I never felt like he grew very much as a character.. he always seemed to stay kind of the same. The only discernible difference between Zhang at the beginning of the novel and the one at the end, was that he seemed to have more drive at the end when he found a project he wanted to focus on (remodeling that apartment he was living in by the end.) His narrative voice was nicely pulled off though; it definitely felt had that polite, to the point Chinese feel to it. I also liked the way in which his homosexuality was dealt with; he's perfectly comfortable in his own skin and he doesn't wallow too much in the fact that the world he lives in doesn't accept his sexuality.
It's also mostly through Zhang's view that we get the majority of the world-building (which makes sense, since he is the protagonist of the story and has the most chapters in his perspective), which IS very well done, though it took me longer than it probably should've to realize that the US had undergone a Communist Revolution.
The next point of view was the flyer's, Angel. I don't remember a whole lot about this one, sadly. I remember the big details, but nothing worth really talking about. It was an interesting insight into the kite flyers and the kind of life they lead, but overall, very meh for me.
My favorite perspectives were the two people on Mars. I can't remember their names right now though and I don't have my notes with me. D: But anyway, the female character's development was nice, watching her go from a fairly frigid and practical lady to one who was willing to marry someone she barely knew to save him and his daughter some grief. It was even *better* seeing how they were doing a few years down the road, and the incident with the goats was funny, and the end of it was so heart-warming.. I just loved it. I honestly wish there had been more chapters with these two characters, though I know why there wasn't. Still, I loved them both and they were definitely the highlight of the novel for me. :)
Finally, we come to the last perspective (well, Zhang is technically the last perspective in the novel, so the last perspective *besides* Zhang) is the daughter of Zhang's former boss (whose name I also can't remember... I really suck at remembering names). She's introduced at the beginning of the novel as an ugly young woman. Also, because she lives at home with her parents and is generally treated like a child, she acts very much like a child as well which can make her actions a little frustrating. BUT, you feel sorry for her because her circumstances are what have mostly shaped her this way. By the time her chapter rolls around, it's been a few years since the beginning of the novel and she's had surgery to make her pretty, and we get to see how she adjusts. A few times throughout the chapter I wanted to shake her and yell at her because of her naivety and just how... STUPID she was being, especially in regards to hanging out with that guy who eventually rapes her. It's also a very sad chapter though, because as I mentioned before, this poor girl has never had to deal with creeps before because men were generally not interested in her, and her parents' treatment of her has disallowed her to mentally and socially mature, so it's no wonder she's so naive.
Final Verdict: Overall, this is a good book. As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, I think the fact that I'm under-read in science fiction disallowed me to fully appreciate this book for what it is. It's got great world-building, but unfortunately I couldn't bring myself to really get behind Zhang's character. He's not a BAD character, but I just found him kind of boring, and was never really invested in his personal growth or his quest to find purpose and his place in the world. I did really love the two chapters that involved the characters from Mars, and the last character perspective in the novel was a pretty heart-breaking. Even though I'm not in *love* with this book, I still appreciate it for what it is (very similarly to how I felt about Ammonite to be honest, though I liked that one a little more) and whole-heartedly recommend it to fans of science fiction and speculative fiction.