This is an action thriller with a science fiction veneer, and I think it will work much better for people who read a lot of action thrillers and not mThis is an action thriller with a science fiction veneer, and I think it will work much better for people who read a lot of action thrillers and not much science fiction. What I'm saying is that if you read this, you'd better be very interested in people running places and shooting other people and stealing planes, because that's what this book has to offer. On the science fiction front, uh, not much here.
It didn't work *badly* for me, exactly. I've just -- I've seen all this before. The MacGuffin, which is that language has power and neurolinguistic programming just hasn't gone quite far enough, is something I've seen in quite a few other books. The minor tweaks Barry made didn't really make it new or interesting enough. And the Shadowy Secret Organization That Controls Your Thoughts concept, with attached School of Imbuing Secret Powers -- I have seen this done before. Done better. Done worse. Done in every possible medium. Again, not new. Not different.
The two plots winding through this story are -- well. It's really easy to figure out who is who and where it's all going, so by the time I got to each reveal I had to suppress an eyeroll: yes, thank you, I know, can we get on with it? And the characters driving them are, well. I would have definitely enjoyed this book more if I'd been invested in them, or in their story, or in any of the multiple relationships you have to buy into for this book to work. Unfortunately, Barry is not nearly as good at writing people and relationships as he is at writing action sequences.
This book is competently written. But if you're going to retread ideas like this, you'd better do something great with them. Compare this to The Rook, which is covering this same ground but doing it differently and really, really well. There is no comparison, because that book is fun to read (or frustrating as hell, if it's not your thing, but it's gonna make you have a reaction) and this book is just a sort of space-filling exercise.
TL;DR: meh. This book is the essence of meh. ...more
Halfway through this book, I thought, hey, I bet this is being turned into a movie. I checked -- nope! It's being turned into a television series. ButHalfway through this book, I thought, hey, I bet this is being turned into a movie. I checked -- nope! It's being turned into a television series. But, basically, this is the kind of book that reads like an extended movie pitch -- it's all neat sequences and gripping pace and generic characters. It's fun, it's page-turning, I enjoyed the gimmick and the worldbuilding, and I kept thinking, are these really the characters they're writing about? Like, out of every single character in the entire universe, they picked THESE? Because we've already had roughly 500,000 books about these guys.
Seriously, our main characters are Idealist Spaceship Captain, who has ideals and beliefs and is beloved of his crew, and Alcholic Divorced Suicidal Cop on a mission. Yes, of course they're both dudes. Are there women? Well, there's the woman who dies to give Hero Captain his angst, the woman who lives to be Hero Captain's supercompetent, vulnerable, dedicated love interest, and the woman who does spoilery things and is the object of World-Weary Cop's creepy, fetishy affections. That's, yeah. I mean, there are women! And to be fair, the men are every bit as stereotyped as the women. It's just that the men are the heroes and drivers of the action and -- once again! -- the women are their objects and motivations.
Oh, and the single interesting aspect of the characters -- the tension between the differing worldviews of the two Hero Men -- is apparently not something that's going to continue in subsequent books. It'll be interesting to see how it works without that.
But, coming back to the book's strong points -- this is a nice, fun, light read. It will not challenge you or your vision of humanity or the future, largely because this entire book could easily have been written in 1971 and pretty much was, but it's surprisingly good on the mechanics of living in space and flying in space and so on. You won't care much about any of the characters, but you'll still be curious to know how it all comes out. Basically, there's nothing special here, but it's good for what it is. I'll read the next one. I'm easy for SF....more
I'm sort of a loss about what to rate this. This is a book that shouldn't need to be written at all -- its core thesis is that it's almost impossibleI'm sort of a loss about what to rate this. This is a book that shouldn't need to be written at all -- its core thesis is that it's almost impossible to get ahead or achieve a stable, comfortable life when you're making close to minimum wage, and that is just basic math. But, on the other hand, a large number of people seem to lose their ability to do basic math when they start talking about wages and poverty. (The number of semi-hysterical, ranting one-star reviews for this book alone are pretty indicative of people's inability to be rational while discussing poverty.)
And this is definitely not the best book it could be. Tirado gets some stuff wrong, is vague in places, is a little disorganized. But that itself is revealing -- like, she gets almost everything about being what she calls rich (essentially, if you're comfortable, you're rich by her terminology) wrong. Unsurprising, because she's never been rich. And, yes, she's angry. I'd argue that she has a right to be, and that this book isn't a personal attack on anyone but rather a frustrated assault on a poorly-designed society, but it's clear that her tone is an issue for some readers.
But the book also has strengths. For one thing, it's engaging. It is a fast, light read; she doesn't always know what she's doing in every chapter, but I still found myself moving quickly through the book. However, I think what I liked most about the book is Tirado's honesty. She makes it clear that she's made mistakes, that she's not perfect, that she ended up in poverty partly because of some bad choices she made. She's not trying to prove that she's a perfect person who ended up in poverty through no fault of her own. (It was a combination of bad choices, bad luck, and institutional error.) Instead, she's asking a different question -- how long should you have to suffer for your mistakes? Is it okay to make a society in which it's almost impossible to recover from a mistake, in which it's almost impossible for someone's children to recover from their parents' mistakes? (Just judging by the goodreads reviews, a fair number of people are going to say it's absolutely fine, that they themselves are perfect and see no reason to plan for anyone else to be otherwise. I -- disagree.)
This wasn't the best reading experience of my life. And I didn't learn anything from reading it. But I'm still glad it's there. (And, wow, it is so much better than the poverty tourism type of book; at least this one is written by someone who is actually poor.) Basically, this book gets three stars for being readable and making so many people uncomfortable. It must be doing something right. (But if you can do basic math, and you already know living well on minimum or near-minimum wage is impossible, and you already use your vote and your voice to try to change that, you can skip this one.) ...more
This book starts with a 1,500-year timeline of events leading up to the start of the story. The first third of it is character introduction, each charThis book starts with a 1,500-year timeline of events leading up to the start of the story. The first third of it is character introduction, each character getting a chapter or part of one. It finishes with no resolution of any of the storylines; it's not a book so much as the first third of a very long book of complex political SF. You're either the kind of person that summary appealed to or you aren't.
If you aren't, lucky you. This is the genre I wish I could quit -- it's the SF epic, a very close cousin to the fantasy epic. Both cover many societies and cultures, both feature complex political manuevers and dangerous conflicts, both are intricate as hell. And, unfortunately, as far as I know, pretty much all SF epics are written by men, and it shows.
Peter Hamilton is definitely in the top third of SF epic writers in terms of diversity and relative lack of grossness. There's only one mass rape scene in this book, and it's not lovingly detailed, and it's done by actual bad guys. There are minor queer characters, multiple skin tones, and the book adheres to the genre's gold standard 70/30 rule: for every 7 men with speaking parts, you get approximately 3 women.
If you wonder why this is the gold standard -- there are books in this genre without a single female character. One author typically has either one or two women, against 20-30 men. Thirty percent women really is as good as it gets. And two of those women even have a plot role entirely unrelated to sex or screaming, which, again, is amazing for this genre. Sure, one of the main female characters is literally carried through a major action sequence, is coerced into virtually everything she does, obtained her position of importance through having sex with a man, spends most of the book either intoxicated or sulking petulantly, and her only independent act of heroism is completely elided, but. There are two women who aren't like that. Again, super rare for this genre.
So, as far as this genre goes, this is pretty much as good as it gets on the misogyny front. It's just. Not good enough. I read this very much aware that I am in no way the audience Hamilton was writing for, that I'm actually an audience he actively does not like and does not want.
But the plot was good, nicely woven, enjoyably intricate. The SF background is neat and cool and fun, everything I want from an SF epic. Many of the characters are three dimensional, which is great and made it much easier to track them over the long haul of character introduction and plot thread establishment. I will read the rest of the series, since this is, unfortunately, exactly the kind of thing I like.
I just wish it wasn't. Damn it, SF epics, why can't I quit you? You so obviously want me to. ...more
This book is appallingly bad. So bad I finished it and took a break from reading published books at all; so bad I hateread the last half, just to seeThis book is appallingly bad. So bad I finished it and took a break from reading published books at all; so bad I hateread the last half, just to see how bad Daum could get.
She gets pretty damn bad. This is the book where the author describes herself as "biologically straight, culturally lesbian," a fascinating phrase constructed of four words that make sense individually but lose all meaning when stitched together this way. It's the book with an essay entitled "Honorary D*ke." It's the one where the author notes that, although she is a gentile, she celebrates Jewish holidays and uses Yiddish phrases. Basically, this book is hipster racism, hipster antisemitism, hipster homophobia, and hipster misogyny, all wrapped up in a tidy package of mediocre essays.
But they're good, we're supposed to think. Because she's SO EDGY! Look at her, saying the unspeakable to shed light on our deepest darkest thoughts! And maybe if you're the cultural equivalent of Wonder Bread, as Daum is, you really will find this deep and edgy and new. But it's all so, so tired -- her snarky comments about millennials, her detailed descriptions of straight-girl-flirting-with-lesbians-and-then-panicking, her use of every single human being she encounters, including the foster kids she's supposed to advocate for, as props in her life, her lack of empathy, her belief that she is Joni Mitchell's One True Fan.
It's just. It's really dull, is the thing. It's been done, it's been done better, and I could hit four of Daum with a rock from where I'm standing. I really didn't need to read a book to get in touch with her particular brand of punching-down, generic edginess, her particular brand of attraction to and terror of everything and everyone different from herself.
There is a funny story about Nicole Kidman in here, though. If you get a chance to pick up the book for free, maybe look for that? Otherwise, you'd be better off reading almost anything else. ...more
This is this series' Book Where the Wheels Fall Off. It's open-ended enough to allow for future sequels, but I won't be reading them (unless my kid geThis is this series' Book Where the Wheels Fall Off. It's open-ended enough to allow for future sequels, but I won't be reading them (unless my kid gets into this series, of course).
So, first, this book has the general flaws (and strengths, but they no longer make up for the flaws) of the previous books in the series: it's got book two's "20% of this book is unskippable infodump about what has gone before," and it doubles down on book one's "I expect you to believe two people could fall in (healthy, totally reasonable) love when they have never communicated or seen each other and do not know each other's names, and also Party A is effectively the prisoner of Party B." (Yes, it freaks me out that this is a model of a healthy relationship being presented to middle-grade kids.) Now said couple is dating, and we're supposed to be so invested in that relationship that we approve of ridiculous plot choices made to preserve it.
Spoiler: I did not feel that way.
But the big new thing that dropped this down a star for me was that this book requires the main character to make a series of dumb decisions, exactly the kind that he's supposedly learned not to do in past books, solely to keep the plot moving. (Or, in this case, to keep the plot from ending too soon; one of the gimmicks introduced in the previous book makes solving the main problem of this book way too easy, unless you use it stupidly.) It's frustrating when character growth is walked back in service of the plot; it's even more frustrating when that plot is built on a framework of stupid choices by people who should, at this point, know better.
(Tip for authors stuck in this trap: don't make your heroes dumber. Make your villains smarter. Works the same and keeps the reader on your side.)
So, yeah, tapping out of this series. I might read the author's next one, but this one is finished for me....more
Okay, so, basically this is very similar to the first book of the series -- fast-paced, fun worldbuilding, super-cool conceit, magic and magic items aOkay, so, basically this is very similar to the first book of the series -- fast-paced, fun worldbuilding, super-cool conceit, magic and magic items and cool stuff, and character relationships that aren't quiiiiiiite what you'd hope in terms of actual, textual support. (In this book, the two characters who managed to fall in love without ever speaking to each other in book one are dating! Yay. I am definitely super-invested in this entirely off-the-page relationship that apparently developed while a) neither party spoke to each other b) neither party knew the other's name and c) party A was essentially the jailor/guardian for party B.)
I wrote this review, though, because this book does have one thing the first one didn't, and I really, really wish it did not: a ton of infodump-style exposition. Can we go back to that thing where authors wrote a little summary of the series and put it at the front of the book, under a heading like What Came Before, so people who had read the earlier books could skip it? Because the amount of infodump I've been experiencing at the start of sequels has skyrocketed lately, and this book is maybe the worst offender I've encountered. Every time I hit more than a paragraph of solid infodump, I looked down at the progress bar; the last one I encountered was 18% of the way into the book. In other words, a fifth of this book is full of, basically, a summary of the previous one. This is -- less than ideal.
But. I'm still going to read book 3, so. This series hasn't lost me yet. ...more
Never have I needed a 3.5 stars option more than I do for this book. This was definitely better than three stars, but some key factors are holding itNever have I needed a 3.5 stars option more than I do for this book. This was definitely better than three stars, but some key factors are holding it back from being four stars. It exists in a superimposed three-star and four-star state!
Okay, so, first, the good. This is a very fast, compelling read. Unusually page-turning, even when compared to the already fast-paced standard middle grades book. It's got magic and interesting characters and a decent reason for the main character to be so uninformed and kept in the dark. (Which, in turn, gives him some good reasons for the more unfortunate decisions he makes.) The worldbuilding is really interesting, and honestly any time you combine Arthurian legend, the modern day, and time fuckery, you have my sword AND my axe. Plus, the gimmick of this series -- that some people get a bonus day each week -- is basically the deepest sincerest wish of my heart. So. There is a lot to like.
There are also some problems, though. First, and this is the minor problem, this book has the Sciency Words Disease, and it has a really bad case of it. Author, you've got descendants of Merlin and King Arthur and Nimue running around with magic daggers and magic powers -- you don't NEED sciency words! Put them away. But my major problem was -- okay, so, I'm going to try to do this without spoilers. Let's just say that the relationships between the characters weren't particularly well-developed or grounded in anything real, and also that the author attempts the technically impossible manuever known as Claiming Two Characters Who Have Never Spoken to Each Other Are in Love. If Connie Willis couldn't make this work, and she couldn't, mortals don't have a shot at this one. It should not be attempted. Here it is, and that is Not Good.
But, okay, character relationship problems aside (and I have hopes that will be ironed out a bit in the sequels), this is a fun book. With magic. And daggers. And TIME. Did enjoy, will read more....more
I bought this because I'm weak to travel narratives (I'd much rather read them than actually travel), it was in an area I don't see a lot of travel naI bought this because I'm weak to travel narratives (I'd much rather read them than actually travel), it was in an area I don't see a lot of travel narratives for, and it was cheap. I kept reading it because I felt like I was witnessing a performance of a cultural role I didn't quite understand -- it was like classic Dad Culture, complete with dad jokes and gender stereotyping, but with unfamiliar-to-me additions.
Unfortunately, one of those strange additions was racism. That particular stripe of racism where the person is simultaneously congratulating themselves on how racist they're not as they are saying, uh, really quite racist things. So this book had the Magical Aborigine as Part of the Scenery, the I'm Not Saying Aborigines Are Lazy I'm Just Saying I Never Saw One Do Anything, the I'm Not Saying Aborigines Are Bad Parents (Except Actually I Am), and we finished up with Wow, I Guess I Was Wrong About Some of Those Bad Things I Used to Think About Aborigines. I very much did not enjoy that part of the book.
Beyond that, this was pretty much the travel-related emails and Facebook posts of your second cousin Bob, who lives in Brisbane. Lots of adjectives about lovely places, lots of beer and wine drinking, lots of fishing, lots of details about car disasters (because, uh, they had enough car disasters to convince me that driving through the Australian outback is a bad idea). The details I was hoping for, and that the first part of the book suggested would be there (logistics, the kids' reactions, amusing anecdotes, actual information about Australia), did not really materialize.
It was only after I finished the entire Tower Trilogy – and it does stay good, all the way through – that I realized that I've had an unplanned run ofIt was only after I finished the entire Tower Trilogy – and it does stay good, all the way through – that I realized that I've had an unplanned run of books about female friendship. (Mars Evacuees, Giant Days, and the Towers Trilogy all feature a central, pivotal friendship between girls or women.) I like this trend and hope it continues.
Of all of those series, the friendship is definitely most important in this one, where it's between Xhea, ghost-seeing magic-null (...or is she?) citizen of a magic-obsessed world, and Shai, a dead girl who has All the Magic. The friendship is the engine that drives the books and their plots. I think if it doesn't work for you, the books won't work at all.
Fortunately, the friendship very much worked for me, and thus so did the books. They're fascinating, with novel, interesting worldbuilding and a driving central plot, plus main characters I really liked, who do not always make the right or best choices, but who do always make the choices that makes sense for who they are.
The books are a trifle uneven. You can tell the first one is a first novel, but the author finds her feet by the third one, and stops introducing characters by going, "Oh, here is this other person that Xhea has known for years that I never mentioned before. Let me give you a quick paragraph of background!" (That, for the record, is not the way to do that.) And they've been astonishingly poorly served by their publishing house – the editing and the copyediting were neither of them good, and I think the book has been badly packaged and marketed. But that doesn't change the central facts: these are fun to read, compelling and painful in spots, with gripping worldbuilding and good characters.
I am definitely the wrong audience for this book, but I still liked it. I liked what Hartzler did with it, and I liked how he pitched it directly to hI am definitely the wrong audience for this book, but I still liked it. I liked what Hartzler did with it, and I liked how he pitched it directly to his audience; there are passages that read to me like a whistle only his target audience can hear. And, let me repeat, that target audience does not include me. I think the ideal reader for this book is a teenager from a very Christian family, someone who is struggling with faith and family that feels like a straitjacket.
Since I am actually a middle-aged Jewish lesbian parent mostly struggling with getting enough sleep *and* still getting everything else done, I was genuinely shocked by some aspects of this book -- like, as a single example, that the parents who gave their 16-year-old son a purity ring for his birthday met when one of them was a high school teacher and the other was a high school student. (After I read that bit, I irritably texted a friend about maybe at least remembering about the beam in your own eye before obsessing about the speck in your son's.)
But mostly I was impressed. Hartzler makes it very clear that his parents loved him deeply and sincerely, even though they fucked up, as all parents do. (Where those particular parents fucked up was assuming that they could protect their children by simply making every single decision for them, and by believing that the person their child was didn't matter. Parent the kid you've got, fellow parents!) And he makes it clear that in the end, he did have the power to make his own decisions. No one in here is a cartoon villain or a hero; just, you know, people, being people, trying to do stuff, making mistakes. I liked that.
Most of all, I really, really liked that this is a growing-up-queer memoir that doesn't center sex and coming out as the critical experiences of, well, growing up queer. Straight people tend to expect that, tend to expect a comfortable narrative where there is DOUBT and then STRUGGLE and then KISSING and then TELLING EVERYONE (always the most important step, to straight people) and then BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY EVER AFTER. This book avoids that trap. I appreciate that. It's messier and realer than the Traditional Gay Teen Narrative. I'd love it if there were a thousand more books like this, messy and honest, and I think the world would be a better place for it.
So, overall: I liked this. It was hard to read in places -- there's not just embarrassment but actualfax public humiliation -- but worth the pain. (Though I admit I skimmed the public humiliation, because no.) ...more