Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book That Thing! Review of The Little Universe

Book that Thing! is a review blog hosted by Saskia Kanstinger, who just did my book the honor of a thorough review. Here it is below, or you may visit Book that Thing! to keep up to date with the latest reviews there.

The Little Universe by Jason Matthews
Jason Matthews - The Little Universe
This copy was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. (Available at all major retailers as a paperback and ebook.) 
Kindle Edition, published June 16th, 2011

What defines a loser? Jon Gruber wonders if it’s him. He’s an unmarried carpenter without a car. Do I even need to mention he’s over 30? Maybe meeting Webster Adams is a blessing, for the astronomer gives Jon a new outlook on life. He’s a brilliant inventor trying to create a universe in miniature form. Against all odds the experiment works and a journey of wonder and discovery begins. Who created our universe? Does God exist? Just like the little universe and all the questions that arise, Webster’s daughter Whitney intrigues, yet confuses Jon from the get go. He finds himself not sure of anything except the need to see this through.
Ever had a hard time writing a review? I’m raising my hand. Just saying! The Little Universe isn’t something I would’ve picked up on my own. In fact, I probably would’ve steered clear of it for no apparent reason (other than not being able to put it into a category). However, the author offered me a review copy. I had a slot open and thought it’d be a great idea to try something a little – make that a lot – different. Something I’ve never read before. This particular phrase is used often, but I mean it. I have never read a book like this. Let’s find out if that turned out to be a good thing, shall we?! A quote that came to mind: “Success isn’t permanent and failure isn’t fatal.” (Mike Ditka)
There’s absolutely nothing I can criticize when it comes to the writing. Matthews knows his craft. Dare I say better than most? It’s true. The writing was superb. I loved the subtle changes that occurred whenever the situation warranted it. Thus depending on the circumstances the writing took on a slightly different tone. For example Webster’s journal entries or Jon in his work environment versus Jon after hours. Taking the plot’s complexity into consideration it definitely acted as a safety network. A story that had me pondering various issues; a story that raised so many questions - it simply couldn’t have worked had the writing been sloppy.
The character I connected with the most was Jim. Now, this might sound strange, for Jim’s a computer. Sorry, Jim! I know you don’t like being called a computer. In my opinion he was the one constant throughout the book. Jim was aware that his free will was only free within his confines. One could argue it shouldn’t be called a free will after all, but I won’t get into this now. My point is that he stayed true to himself. He used every opportunity to learn and every loophole that allowed him to break through the confines of his habitat. Of course, this wasn’t always possible. He wished for dreams to come true just as a human being would. Funny enough, I was annoyed by pretty much all of them at one point except by Jim. Don’t get me wrong, the others had their allure as well. I focused on the outcome of their experiment. Not as a whole, instead I was especially interested in what it would mean for each person involved.
No doubt about it, the plot was character driven. Then again, the recreation of the Big Bang can only be labeled point of reference. The character development was hugely dependent on the experiment. The little universe affected not only Jon, but also Webster, his daughter Whitney and their two colleagues in ways I found both fascinating and dangerous. Jon and Webster couldn’t have been more different. That’s probably why Webster had no problem letting Jon in on his secret. A very interesting dynamic. I loved it! Similar to the intelligent life they discovered. While Whitney realized the importance of other aspects of these people’s everyday lives, Webster and the colleagues almost exclusively limited themselves to their technological progress. Two different views made for a beneficial tension.
Science fiction with a splash of philosophy. Shaken not stirred!
I’m not religious. I don’t believe in God. However, I’m more than open to the possibility that there’s something out there I could believe in. For the time being I’m the sole master of my universe. Okay, maybe not the sole master. Society’s moral code and all. I obviously didn’t raise myself either. Hey mom and dad! I don’t know if the author intended to send a specific message – an answer to the most pressing question carrying the plot. Does God exist? If he should wish for my answer to be yes after reading the book I’m sorry to disappoint. To me, the beauty of the story was the lack of a convincing answer. Fear not! There was an aspect of the story I agree with a hundred percent. Money makes the world (the little universe that is) go round. Behind all this - the philosophical elements, the religious undertone, the imagination running wild - stood one big whopper of a condition: The economic interests. No funds, no story to tell. Kudos to the author for realizing that!
What didn’t work for me?
More emphasis should’ve been put on the fact that progress of any kind has a healthy pace that was discarded by the success of Webster’s experiment.
The ending, too, rubbed me the wrong way. I found the state and place of mind Webster ended up in absolutely unacceptable. It sent the wrong message, for it was not something to be happy about. Sometimes a wish simply shouldn’t be fulfilled. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean one should do it. Also, I would’ve bought into a connection between Whitney and Jon if it hadn’t been for the random involvement with another female character. I know what the author wanted to achieve with the conflict (Jon’s confusion). It didn’t work. This resulted in the main plot line being dragged along, rather than staying the main focus. For about a hundred pages or so I was waiting for something essential to happen. Unfortunately the drought lasted too long for comfort. I wanted to skip the pages. It felt like Matthews wandered from the path for the same reason Webster did what he did. Simply because he could, not because it was the right thing to do. A mind-boggling read that lost its center for a time. Where there’s a storm, there must be an eye of the storm. Despite its flaws, you should give this book a shot. I was pleasantly surprised for the most part. 3 stars to The Little Universe by Jason Matthews!

Beware of Spoilers!
A few of my favorite quotes for those of you who are interested:
° “It was my first conversation with a computer, and I felt a little awkward about what to say.”
° “If I can create a universe…then what does it say about who created ours?”
° “The more he studied the universe, the more complex it remained. He realized he was just one person on a little planet drifting in a cosmic ocean without a guide.”
° “Religion is a mythical history used by primitive people to explain the world and heavens…”
° “I needed a reality check from the lab…”
° “You are the creator and the creation. You are the director and the actor and the play.”

Thank you, Saskia. Your review was thoughtful and thorough!
Home Page of author Jason Matthews.

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