I tend to read a bunch of books at the same time, and then once I really get into one, read it really quickly towards the end, or I read fiction and non-fiction at the same time, one of each kind of keeping me going at a time.  Whenever this year I’ve gotten bogged down in something, I tend to gravitate toward a lighter novel to get me going again.  Reader, this is my way of telling you that I’m probably (ok, definitely) not going to finish Hamilton this year.

Instead of reading Hamilton, I’ve been reading Death’s End by Cixin Liu and It Devours by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Both are kind of sci-fi, although in completely different ways, and I this I can recommend them both to  you (although you should know that Death’s End is the third in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy), assuming you like sci-fi.

It Devours is a novel based in the same world as the Welcome to Night Vale podcast (http://www.welcometonightvale.com/), although you don’t really need to listen to that podcast to read this book.  It kind of reminds me of the show Eureka (which I never really watched much, and to be honest, I don’t really listen to this podcast much, so they are probably not similar but whatever), because really all you need to know to read this book is that Night Vale is a weird place where basically all conspiracy theories are true.  This is the second Night Vale novel, and having finished them both, I enjoyed the first one (called, Welcome to Night Vale) more.

Basically, in this novel, there’s weirder than usual stuff happening: buildings disappearing from Night Vale, with all the people inside, leaving behind just empty pits.  The Night Vale scientists try to figure this, and other things out.  The writing style is fun and funny, but you can basically guess the twist ending from like the second page.  I don’t need a twist ending, I pretty much never read books like Gone Girl where it’s all about messing with your head, but if there’s going to be a twist I don’t want to see it coming for the entire book.  I don’t know, maybe that was part of the point? The moral is: in science, never be too married to your hypotheses I guess.  I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll leave it here.

Death’s End is more classic sci-fi, and I’d even say it’s sort of reminds me of like, old school sci-fi because it’s very much concept driven rather than character driven.  I liked all three of these books (the first one is The Three-Body Problem) once I got about 200 pages in, which is a pretty long time to be kind of slogging along, and I think that’s largely because you don’t really care much about the characters.  I probably cared the most about the main character of this third book, Cheng Xin, maybe because she’s a young woman, maybe because she was drawn a bit more sympathetically, I don’t know.

As Barack Obama put it, the series is “Wildly imaginative.” And that’s really what I liked most about it — at no point was I really sure where things were going next and I don’t feel like I could have imagined anything like this plot line, let’s put it this way, the books start roughly in the present moment (actually the very beginning is a flashback to the Cultural Revolution and there are some more chapters in the first book set between that time and the early 2000s) and goes until 18,906,416ish.

Generally, the plot is pretty straight forward: aliens are headed to earth to take over, they’re going to be here in about 400 years, and the human race is screwed.  The second book sort of averts this, the third book makes it complicated again, sort of resolves it, makes things even more complicated. It’s the unexpected twists and turns that made this series interesting to me.

I will also say that, obviously I read the translated versions of all three books (all originally written in Chinese), and maybe the characters are less wooden in the original language.  I also think that as much as I think people are people (and these books make you think about the human race as one thing even more because there are all these other aliens out there), maybe I didn’t get some of the characters in this book because their values aren’t exactly my values.  I don’t know that Americans carry quite the same sense of duty that many of the characters seemed to have.

Currently reading: Finishing up Difficult Women by Roxane Gay and trying to decide what to read next … probably not Hamilton …