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Oneida tells three stories - first, the story of the deeply religious yet egotistical John Humphrey Noyes; then, the story of the Oneida Community, which he founded to follow his own teachings of how humanity might get closer to God (and, along the way doing some very questionable stuff and some surprisingly progressive stuff); and third, the story of Oneida Ltd., insofar as the silverware giant was still a product of what came before. Each is presented with a bevy of background information that makes plain why people made the decisions they did and makes everything make sense in context to one another - not an easy feat, considering some of the variables in play are free love, contraception, feminism, and eugenics.
Wayland-Smith’s status as a descendant of the original Community grants her access to materials not available to any outsider - firsthand accounts, stories from a century and a half earlier, sometimes invaluable considering the intentional destruction of many Community records in the 1940s. She never feels too close to the subject matter to give it a critical eye - Noyes’ shortcomings are well displayed, as are those of others around him. The history is solidly presented and the people within feel true-to-life; so when you turn over a spoon to see the "ONEIDA" stamp on the back, here is where you can go for more background on how it came to your table. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis
A densely written alternate history, The Years of Rice and Salt focuses not on the big picture of how the world is different after a much more destructive Black Plague, but rather on the individual people as they grow up in this alternate world. Robinson envisions this by following a group of reincarnated souls - or jāti - from the point of divergence in the 1400s up through the 2080s in a series of ten short stories - novellas, almost. Each story feels like a different genre, and it's gratifying to see the characters' reincarnated souls grow and mature together as they try to shape their world for the better. Europe's departure also means the departure of Christianity as a driving force in world history, and Confucianism, Buddhism and Islam rise to take its place. The final story doesn't come to any sort of definitive close as it wraps up the novel - it doesn't end it in any traditional sense - but rather promises that the cycle of reincarnation continues, and the characters will continue to improve, always looking to a better tomorrow. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis
Hope Never Dies starts with the protagonist lamenting not being in contact with his best friend of eight years, then that friend showing up one night, telling him that another of his good friends died under mysterious circumstances. They team up, try to patch their friendship while investigating, always asking questions and getting more questions than answers in return.
It just so happens that the protagonist is former Vice President Joe Biden, and his best friend is the Forty-Fourth President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.
Through his investigation, Joe reflects on the friends he’s fallen out of touch with, with the life he once led, and on his successes and failures over time. There’s serious reflection on dealing with grief and a close look at how America’s opioid epidemic impacts his home town. And at one point there’s Obama, recovering from a moment of doubt, looking at Biden with renewed determination and saying, “Yes we can.”
With plenty of references to the eight years they spent in office together and their time on the campaign trail before that, “Hope Never Dies” draws you in with the prospect of a madcap caper as Joe and Barack, amateur detectives, bumble their way around blue-collar America, but the meat of the book – estranged friendships, an ever-deepening web of seemingly-disconnected evidence, and a vibrant cast of characters – is what keeps you invested, from the first page to the last. Recommended reading for anyone wanting to spend just a few more hours with America’s favorite bromance. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis
The Stars Now Unclaimed manages to combine two very common genres into something unique - post-apocalyptic space opera. The protagonist - unnamed until halfway through the book for some admittedly cheap mystery - is responsible for retrieving gifted children - telekinetic abilities and the like - made possible after a galactic calamity a hundred years ago, which has also rendered all of the planets of civilization incapable of supporting technological advancement to various degrees. (On one planet, any advancements after microcomputers would spontaneously break down due to "Pulse radiation"; on others, anything from the printing press on is unviable.) The protagonist and her latest charge end up gathering a broad smattering of misfits from across the galaxy as they get chased by the ruthless Pax - small-time militarized zealots who threaten the galaxy not because of any great skill on their part, but because they had the good fortune for their world to not get knocked back too far.
The unique combination of two often opposite settings works quite well within the book's own logic and I found it quite easy to slip in to the mindset of a colorful fantastic romp through space. The science is soft enough to cut with a butter knife, though only once to my personal detriment while reading, and always in the service of some fantastic imagery. Betrayal is a common theme, but in Unclaimed is dealt with in the past tense - this good companion, someone discovers, once did something horrendous. The characters have to work through that, to figure out if past misdeeds forever tarnish who a person can be, and of course, to try to come together and become the family that they each need. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis
Catana Comics slowly spread to take social media by storm. Every strip depicts something that feels unique to the artist's relationship, but resonates because every couple has their own language of love. Anyone in a relationship can pick at least half of the strips in this book, show them to their significant other, and exclaim, "It's us!" ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis