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Lord of All Things by Andreas Eschbach

Lord of All Things (2011)

by Andreas Eschbach

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English (5)  German (2)  French (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 5 of 5
Very unique, captivating story. Even months later, I find myself thinking of this book. ( )
  blueraven57 | Nov 25, 2017 |

Andreas Eschbach’s ‘The Carpet Makers’ impressed the hell out of me. I’ve been going around for a few years now, recommending it to all and sundry. I was wildly excited that he had a new book coming out in English, and bought it the very first time I saw it up for sale. I even recommended it to others before reading it myself. I hereby rescind that recommendation.

I would never in a thousand years have guessed that this book was by the same author. There’s no similarity. It’s definitely not an issue of translation, either – it’s a matter of content.
I feel like the book aims at being ‘a thinking man’s thriller’ – but it fails both at introducing new and fascinating philosophical concepts and at being thrilling.

Hiroshi is the half-Japanese son of a laundress working at the French embassy in Tokyo. He’s a precocious robotics genius whose skills lead him to befriending the ambassador’s young daughter, Charlotte. His situation leads to an early awareness of class differences and wealth disparity, which instills in him the ambition to someday eliminate poverty from the world. And he has a plan as to how to achieve this goal! (Don’t hold your breath though – the author is coy about what this idea is for over half of the book, and when it’s finally revealed, it’s quite underwhelming and unoriginal.)

After a slow and didactic exposition of these younger years, deus ex machina in the form of a previously-absent billionaire father allows Hiroshi to move to the United States, experience culture shock, and attend MIT.

Then, in a third section, an unlikely concatenation of coincidences causes Charlotte to be present at the discovery of what seems to be super-powerful alien technology – technology that Just Happens to look just like what Hiroshi, now an eccentric recluse, has been working on.
The first two parts of the book are slow-moving personal drama, mixed with occasional didactic insertions of Liberal Thoughts. The third part comes off more as an attempt at a Michael-Crichton-style thriller. In striking contrast to the didactic insertions, the actual subtext of the book is very, very conservative and offensively sexist. Charlotte, a main character, seemingly exists only to be Hiroshi’s Muse (explicitly stated). Without him, she wanders around lost and accomplishing nothing, looking enviously at the women around her who have become personally fulfilled by bearing children, doing housework (yes, really), and caring for their men.

The book features a number of different geographical and cultural locations. None of them are portrayed convincingly. I find myself doubting whether the author has ever visited Japan or the United States, let alone the Arctic. The Japanese and Louisianan settings were just nonexistent and neutral. The Boston setting – especially to someone who’s actually been on both the Harvard and MIT campuses plenty – is just flat-out wrong. I feel like the author did his research by watching some 1980s frat-house comedy movie. He also has the definite opinion that ANY woman enrolled at MIT or Harvard is there to “achieve her MRS. Degree” and once she catches the right husband, she’ll be happy. No one at these schools seems to put much thought or time into their studies.

The worst part (or maybe just a bit that epitomizes and illustrates the whole attitude of the book): Ok, there’s an Artic research expedition going on. Two men, two women. One of the men is taking photos for the media. He says: “Ladies! … Could you do something that looks like you’re working? From over here it looks like Adrian [the other guy] is doing everything and you two are just standing watching.” The ‘girls’ giggle and respond “Well, that’s what’s happening, isn’t it?” Then the guy directs them what to do so it *looks* like they’re competent researchers, for the press. Throughout the book, it’s like this. Men are the ‘doers.’ Charlotte has a special talent, but it’s just something she’s born with, not something she works at or uses effectively. Over 650 pages, this gets really aggravating.

I’m adding one star for a cool (and devastating) theory as to why, in a galaxy filled with planets, we’ve never been contacted by alien life. But that’s one worthwhile paragraph in a book that overall, is not worth the time.
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Overall Satisfaction:
Intellectual Satisfaction:
Emotional Satisfaction:
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Pass
Will I read more by this author? Maybe. Definitely not with this translator.

I loved Andreas Eschbach’s previous novel, [book:The Carpet Makers|171125], currently his only other novel translated into English. It was very much an idea-driven science fiction novel, old-fashioned in a very good way, fitting nicely in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov. And the translation by Doryl Jensen was superb, the prose clear and spare and elegant in a way that made the eventual mystery reveal more powerful.

Unfortunately, I could not even finish Lord of All Things.

It is a much more modern novel. The Carpet Makers was episodic, each chapter essentially a short story of its own where the connection between them was simply that each story brought the narrative a little closer to the big reveal of the ending. Lord of All Things, on the other hand, is a continuous narrative, following Hiroshi Kato’s life from his childhood in Japan to his college years at MIT to what I assume will be his adult life as one of the world’s leading robotics experts.

The Carpet Makers’ strength was Eschbach’s (and Jensen’s) skill with building atmosphere, and with dispensing clues to the central mystery one by one at exactly the right pace to keep the dramatic tension rising. The strengths required by the story Lord of All Things seems to be telling are very different – this novel needs Hiroshi, at the very least, to be a compelling character, a character with charisma (for the reader, if not necessarily for the other characters around him). And with the number of words devoted to setting each scene it also really needs a writer with the gift of capturing a sense of place, the specific details that make it the French Ambassador’s compound in Tokyo or an MIT frat house instead of just a generic place where rich people live or place where college students get drunk. And for me, Eschbach failed at both of these elements, failed so miserably that I could not stand to read more than 160 pages of the 647 page novel.

(Read the rest of my review on my book review blog!) ( )
  PhoenixFalls | Mar 16, 2014 |
Eschbach's Lord of All Things is a weave of nearly every major genre you could search out--though a science fiction novel at heart (at least by the end), it includes elements of romance, mystery, drama, horror, suspense, adventure, and even some small element of the supernatural. Probably, the book will lose some readers exactly because of this variety, but for many readers, I think it is exactly this variety that makes the book so impossible to walk away from. Perhaps because I read so little science fiction, this mix was especially effective for me, and might be most appealing to readers who have truly eclectic tastes...but one way or another, I'd expect any reader to find some entertainment here. And, importantly, the book is also a careful and believable exploration of day-to-day struggles--crazy as some of the events are, and extraordinary as some of the characters are, Eschbach never forgets that normal struggles and fears are at the base of any individual, and he does an admirable job of allowing those concerns to make his work all the more powerful and believable without ever losing the drive that comes from dipping into the genres noted above.

Following the lives of a man and woman whose lives boomerang against each other time after time, and taking its seed from a young boy who lives in poverty and dreams of fixing the world and, most importantly, eliminating poverty, the novel is magnificent in scope. Moving across the globe and landing in such settings as Boston, Tokyo, Scotland, the Arctic, and Buenos Aires, as quickly as the novel moves, it never becomes tedious or predictable--or rather, when you think it might be predictable, Eschbach takes an unprecedented turn that, in hindsight, fits perfectly, even as much as readers wouldn't have seen it coming.

On the whole, this is one of those works which, long as it is, can barely be put down for sleep once a reader has really begun, and there's something here for nearly everyone. True, it has some faults. Some scenes seem more tangent than necessity (especially in the first portion of the book), developing characters and motivations that only become clear much later and giving time to perhaps one too many subplots. And, really, only the two primary characters in the book are fully fleshed out and developed as much as one might hope for all of the characters. But, while some readers may end up seeing Eschbach as attempting too much...I have to say that I'll read anything else of his which I can find in translation. Whether you read this and become fascinated by the scientific drive, the politics of achievement, or the simple drama of living, there'll be something here to keep you involved.

Absolutely recommended. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Feb 12, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Andreas Eschbachprimary authorall editionscalculated
Willcocks, SamuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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They are just children when they first meet: Charlotte, daughter of the French ambassador, and Hiroshi, a laundress's son. One day in the playground, Hiroshi declares that he has an idea that will change the world. An idea that will sweep away all differences between rich and poor. When Hiroshi runs into Charlotte several years later, he is trying to build a brighter future through robotics. Determined to win Charlotte's love, he resurrects his childhood dream, convinced that he can eradicate world poverty by pushing the limits of technology beyond imagination. But as Hiroshi circles ever closer to realizing his vision, he discovers that his utopian dream may contain the seeds of a nightmare -- one that could obliterate life as we know it. Crisscrossing the globe, from Tokyo to the hallowed halls of MIT to desolate Arctic islands and Buenos Aires and beyond -- far beyond -- Lord of All Things explores not only technology's dizzying potential, but also its formidable dangers.… (more)

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