Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2012 Evelyn C. Leeper.


THE SCHOPENHAUER CURE by Irvin P. Yalom:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/06/2012]

THE SCHOPENHAUER CURE by Irvin D. Yalom (ISBN 978-0-066-2144-12) tries to blend psychotherapy and philosophy, and a lot of people like it, but it just does not work for me. I have two problems with it. First, Julius Hertzfeld seems to put Philip Slate into his group therapy sessions for insufficient reasons. Slate wants to get certified as a psychotherapist, but Hertzfeld does not think he is ready. So instead he puts him into a group therapy session with other patients, without appearing to think about how it will affect their therapy. And second, when he is in the group, all he does is quote Arthur Schopenhauer ... at length ... at great length. All that keeps it from being labeled an info-dump is that Schonpenhauer wrote philosophy rather than science or history or something explicitly fact-based. If a patient in a group therapy session is actually allowed to monopolize it as much as Slate does by reciting long stretches of his favorite philosopher, this does not speak well for the effectiveness of group therapy. I will admit that I am not a psychologist, so I may be misunderstanding what is going on here. But to an outsider, it does seem as though Slate is a disruptive influence and Hertzfeld does nothing about it. (SPOILER: That all this Schopenhauer actually helps cure the group members is clearly a plot contrivance rather than something that seems likely to happen.)

To order The Schopenhauer Cure from amazon.com, click here.


KAFKA IN BRONTËLAND AND OTHER STORIES by Tamar Yellin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/05/2007]

KAFKA IN BRONTËLAND AND OTHER STORIES by Tamar Yellin (ISBN-13 978-1-59264-153-6, ISBN-10 1-59264-153-9) is a collection of thirteen Jewish-themed stories--but also literature-themed. So we have a Jewish Odysseus, a Kafka living in Yorkshire, a mystery man who loans the narrator a copy of THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA, and so on, including the final piece, "A Letter from Josef K." Since Yellin herself is a Jew raised in Yorkshire, she understands how to meld the various cultures, and has a gift for language that makes the stories a joy to read.

To order Kafka in Brontëland and Other Stories from amazon.com, click here.


THE HAUNTED TRAVELLER by Barry Yourgrau:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/30/2004]

I finally read Barry Yourgrau's THE HAUNTED TRAVELLER, which are a series of vignettes told by a traveler. I would describe this as magical realism in the style of Lisa Goldstein's TOURISTS or some of Jorge Luis Borges's works. It was also more what I expected Ursula K. LeGuin's CHANGING PLANES to be (and wasn't).

To order The Haunted Traveller from amazon.com, click here.


HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE by Charles Yu:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/18/2011]

Our science fiction group's book this month was HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE by Charles Yu (read by James Yaegashi) (ISBN 978-0-307-37920-7, audiobook ISBN 978-1-449-83487- 6). I had read this book before, so this time I listened to the audiobook. Yaegashi did an excellent job, with a very believable delivery as the first-person narrator, sounding as though he were talking directly to the reader rather than reading off a page.

This is another example of a science fiction novel written outside the field. Yu is more concerned with the emotional content than with the technical aspects of his novel, so the mechanics of building a time machine are somewhat glossed over, and instead we get more reflections on emotional states and family relationships. This is not to say Yu is unfamiliar with the science fiction field--one character has named a time machine part a "Niven ring", and another in a moment of excitement shouts, "Holy Heinlein!"

One of Yu's ideas is so clever I almost hate to quibble over its accuracy. (But you know me--I'll do it anyway.) He has a problem with his time machine and finds himself in a Buddhist temple with his mother. But not his mother as she was, or as she will be, but as she might have been, a perfect mother, the Platonic ideal of his mother. This, he concludes, is neither the past nor the present, but the subjunctive:

She turns to me, and I see at once that this woman is exactly like my mother. She is The Woman My Mother Should Have Been.

She is not a could have been. Could have beens are women who are not exactly like my mother. For any given mother, for any given person, there are many could have beens, maybe an infinite number.

No, this woman standing in front of me is something else, she is the one and only Woman My Mother Should Have Been, and I have found her. Looking for my father, I have found this woman, I have traveled, chronogrammatically, out of the ordinary tense axes and into this place, into the subjunctive mode.

While he recognizes that the subjunctive is not on the same axis as past and present, he does not address the problem that the subjunctive is not a tense, with some chronological position, but a mood. One can have the past subjunctive, the present subjunctive, or the future subjunctive, just as one can have the past, present, or future indicative. So the question of whether a time machine could invoke the subjunctive is problematic.

But I suppose that one can even have this discussion indicates that Yu has put more into this book than one usually finds in a time travel novel. And while there are good time-travel novels marketed as science fiction, Yu's style makes this a refreshing change from the usual.

To order How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe from amazon.com, click here.

To order the audiobook of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe from amazon.com, click here.


"The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/29/2012]

"The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld) is okay, but I do not see why it got a Hugo nomination.


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