Have you noticed that everyone on social media is obsessed by something? Whether it’s a raging enthusiasm for beauty products, the latest foodie trends, the Pantone color for 2018 (ultra violet, btw) or politics, the Internet is where we make our passions known. I am no different.
I am obsessed by Amor Towles critically-acclaimed novel A Gentleman in Moscow. While I am late to the party—the book was released in fall 2016—I’m so glad I finally showed up. Set right after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the story is about Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced to “house arrest” at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, after writing an incendiary poem which challenges the new Bolshevik regime. What follows is a thirty-year span that skillfully weaves the courtly and intelligent Count’s adventures, and Russian history along with myriad, fully fleshed out supporting characters. All the threads are beautifully orchestrated and paced, creating an exhilarating literary experience. I was so enthralled and reluctant to leave this rich, detailed and thought-provoking world Towles created, I listened to the audiobook too.
If you’re in the mood for a captivating and brilliantly written novel, check out A Gentleman in Moscow. His first book, Rules of Civility, while entirely different in style and subject matter, is also delightful. More on that book later!
At last … one of my favorite sci-fi books has been adapted into a series. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan arrived last Friday on Netflix. When I first read the novel, I was mesmerized by the world Morgan created: a world where consciousness could be downloaded into a type of chip located at the base of the neck called a cortical stack. It could then be placed in a body (known chillingly as a sleeve). That sleeve could be a real body, a clone or a synthetic.
The ramifications of this concept are dizzying. Say your body was injured or diseased, and you had the money to pay for a new sleeve—because in this world and like most sci-fi, the wealthy have all the options—you could essentially live forever. But if you’re not rich, this world is not your oyster; it’s grim, gritty, ultraviolent and rife with sexual exploitation.
The 10-episode series is also a future-noirish crime story lead by our hero Takeshi Kovacs. Played by Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, RoboCop), who buffed out uber hard to play our conflicted hero, Kovacs is a mercenary who’s stack has been imprisoned for 250 years for crimes against the state. And now’s he’s been re-sleeved by one of the Meths (as old and rich as Methuselah, get it?) to solve who murdered him. Yes, this rich dude (James Purefoy) is alive again! His consciousness was backed up to his personal cloud before his stack was blown to bits. You see, once your stack is kaput, you’re irretrievably dead.
While the series made some dramatic changes to the novel that weren’t entirely satisfying to me, the overall result was thrilling and very cool. Budget was rumored to be around $100 million. Whatever the budget, every cent is evident on-screen. If you’re a lover of Philip K. Dick’s novels and the polluted, ad-fueled and rainy world of Blade Runner—which turned those motifs into sci-fi visual canon—you must check it out!
Would you rather be sent to the Colonies and made to clean up toxic waste until “your skin falls off in sheets” or be forced into becoming a birthing surrogate for an infertile couple? These hideous and oppressive scenarios are what the character Offred must face in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Set in a dystopian near-future, the U.S. is controlled by a totalitarian Christian fundamentalist regime that shoves women into various servant classes while denying them independence and rights.
Now Hulu has begun streaming its 10-episode adaptation starring Elizabeth Moss. Three episodes have already been made available, and let me tell you the series is just as creepy and chilling as the novel. At times it’s even tough to stomach. Especially the scenes where the handmaids are raped in grotesque mating rituals, aided by the complicit, barren wives of the elite commanders. Horrifying.
In the current political climate, one of the novel’s central themes, the destruction of feminism, has taken on a deeper resonance. And like 1984, it should be no surprise that The Handmaid’s Tale has topped Amazon’s bestseller lists. As the battle for reproductive rights rages on in the U.S., Atwood’s story reminds us once again how women’s independence is tied to the ability to control our bodies.