Many of Richard Matheson's short stories and novels take a supernatural premise and make it relatable through the use of the characters and their reacMany of Richard Matheson's short stories and novels take a supernatural premise and make it relatable through the use of the characters and their reactions to it.
This isn't the case with Matheson's What Dreams May Come. The novel is Matheson's attempt to look at what happens to us after death and while it's interesting, I never felt like it necessarily connected with me in the same way that other Matheson novels and short stories have.
Driving home, Chris Nielsen is killed in a car accident. After his spirit lingers in our world for a bit, Chris transcends to the next level of being. While he's content there, he misses his wife Anne and longs for the day she'll join him on the other side. But when Ann can't take the pain of missing Chris, she commits suicide, condemning her to a purgatory of sorts from which her spirit can't or won't escape. Chris decides he needs to rescue Ann and undertakes a journey to the underworld to bring her back.
There are early passages in this novel that work very well, from Chris' initial frustration about not being able to interact with his family and friends while "stuck" on this plane of existence. And while Matheson attempts to set up the romance and deep love that Chris and Ann share, it never quite becomes as transcendent as the novel requires. Chris' grand gesture to potentially throw away his eternal existence to "save" Ann should feel more monumental than it does.
I found myself growing frustrated with the novel at points because, as I said before, Matheson has given us stories focusing on "love that transcends the bounds of time and space" before in Somewhere in Time. And yet as unbelievable as the premise is that a man could will himself back in time to be with the woman he loves, I found it far more easy to suspend my disbelief for that premise than I did for the premise here. Part of it is that I was a bit more invested in the characters in Somewhere in Time (aka Bid Time Return) than I was in What Dreams May Come.
But even "lesser" Matheson is still enjoyable Matheson. And while I didn't love this novel as much as some of his other works, there are still some good nuggets buried in here. ...more
In his introduction to Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, Issac Asimov tells us that he wasn't satisfied with his novelization of Fantastic VoyagIn his introduction to Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, Issac Asimov tells us that he wasn't satisfied with his novelization of Fantastic Voyage and that this novel is an attempt to correct some things he didn't like about the first novel.
The result is this book which is less a sequel to the original and more a re-telling of the original story and concept. Asimov tries his hardest to make the concept of miniaturization more scientifically plausible, but it's at the the cost of making the second installment far less interesting and page-turning. The first novel took about half its page length to get the crew miniaturized and inside the human being in question to try and save life. Unfortunately, so does Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain. At several points, I found myself muttering "Let's get on with the shrinking already" as our hero, Morrison expresses a sense of trepidation about the procedure he is about to undergo.
And it may be with Morrison that this book finds its biggest flaw. Asimov sets up our protagonist as a scientist whose fortunes and favor in the scientific community are on the decline. When approached by a Soviet agent about coming to the Soviet Union to help in an experiment, Morrison is quick to decline, despite the fact that he has no prospects on the horizon in the United States. Even when asked by his own government to go, Morrison declines and eventually has to be kidnapped and taken to the Soviet Union in order to become part of the team.
Morrison protests this treatment a lot over the course of the novel. It feels almost like Asimov wants to remind us every ten or so pages that Morrison has become part of this project against his will. This works to the detriment of the book. Part of the fun of the original was no matter who fantastic the situation, the participants were at least enthusiastic about the opportunity to travel inside a human being and possibly save his life. Here the motivation isn't so much saving a life but not allowing a scientist to die without passing on vital knowledge that could make the process of miniaturization easier and more cost effective.
Yes, you read that correctly. One of the motivating factors for this journey inside the body of a man and to his brain is to unlock his secrets is entirely budgetary. A good reason, sure. But not exactly one that compels you to turn pages and wonder what will happen next. At least the first novel had the specter of the Cold War hanging over it to drive some of the character and plot motivations.
I kept hoping that once our team of scientists got miniaturized and injected into the subject that things might pick up. Unfortunately, this isn't the case and the novel plods along at its leisurely pace even once we're injected and running against the clock. The only moments of tension come when the ship is diverted by a white blood cell and later when Morrison is forced to go to extreme measures to try and make the mission a success. (And even then, he has to be blackmailed into it by the Soviet team though threats of destroying what little is left of his academic reputation.)
The book also suffers from the same flaw that several later Asimov projects do -- his desire to tie all his universes together. Thankfully it's not quite as egregious as Robots and Empire, but there's a coda that makes Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain a stepping stone toward Asimov's Robots and Foundation novels. It's only a couple of pages and it's meant to serve as a coda, so it's a bit easier to overlook and forgive than some of the other examples from the Asimov library, but it's still there.
Had I not read the original novel first, I might have liked this one more. Of course, had I not read the original I might not have been willing to give Asimov the benefit of the doubt I needed to keep plowing through this one in the hopes things would get better.
This one just validates my theory that 80's Asimov output is no where nearly as entertaining and readable as those stories from his early career. I can see what he's trying to do here, but I still think the original novel, despite all of its scientific implausibilities, is a more entertaining and enjoyable reading experience. ...more
If I'd read Hugh Howey's Wool back when it was a self-published, little book that could, I think I might have enjoyed it more than I did. Or at leastIf I'd read Hugh Howey's Wool back when it was a self-published, little book that could, I think I might have enjoyed it more than I did. Or at least I wouldn't have entered into it expecting the "next great thing" in the publishing world.
As it is, I enjoyed much of what does in Wool even if I didn't necessarily love it. As far as world-building and character arcs go, this one stands out from the crowd of post-apocalyptic novels. The hook (which I won't give away here, though I will admit I figured it out a bit before our characters did) works extremely well, though I feel as if too much of the middle third of the novel is content to just tread water instead of getting to the answers we want or need. Perhaps this is setting up things for future installments and there will be a payoff or two there.
Wool has intrigued me enough that I'm curious to pick up the next installment in the series and visit this world again. But I'm not sure how quickly I'll be back for more....more
When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.
After reading Stephen Baxter'When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.
After reading Stephen Baxter's Second Doctor tie-in, I wasn't sure the melding of a big-name genre writer with the universe of Doctor Who could be very successful.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that within twenty pages of Reynolds' The Harvest of Time that not only had he captured the spirit of the Jon Pertwee era on the printed page, but that I was also enjoying the book immensely.
Set at the height of the Pertwee era, The Harvest of Time takes place before the on-screen events of "The Sea Devils" and finds the Doctor and UNIT trying to fend off an alien invasion brought about by the Master. But instead of the season eight cliche of the Master bringing a group of aliens to Earth and rapidly losing control of the situation, Reynolds makes this alien invasion one unintentionally triggered by the Master. Seems that our favorite Time Lord villain was sending out a signal to himself across the timelines to help his present self escape his Earthly prison. However, his signal is picked up by an alien race who has already destroyed one world and has now set its sights on Earth and gaining the Master as part of their nefarious plot.
Harvest of Time feels like a story that could have been made during third Doctor's tenure -- assuming they had the budget and special effects technology that help bring the new series to life on our screens. All of the UNIT-era regulars are on hand and it's clear from Reynolds use of them that he is not only a fan of classic Who but also a fan of the Pertwee era. And while this novel feels like it could easily take place during that era, it still has a scope and scale that simply couldn't or wouldn't work as well on our TV screens. Examining the nature of time and the implications of time travel, the story is one of the most entertaining novels -- tie-in or otherwise -- that I've read this year.
It even made me year to dust off some of my old third Doctor era DVDs and give them a viewing (again). It also made me want to run out and read more of Reynolds' non-Who offerings.
Easily the best of the big name genre author tie-in novels, The Harvest of Time gives me hope that the editors of this line would be willing to try this experiment again with some other more recognized authors. And hope that Reynolds might have another Doctor Who story in him because if he does, this is one fan who'd love a chance to read it. ...more
If you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title characIf you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title character and his sleeping disorder, you're going to be sorely disappointed by this book.
However, if you approach this book and view the title as a hook to get you interested in the story of the friendship to two young, geeky teenage boys and their trials, tribulations and first loves, then you're probably going to love this book. I know I did.
Darren Bennett is a bit of a loner, constantly doodling in his notebooks, textbooks and anything else he can find. One day, Eric Lederer notices the drawings and the two begin their friendship -- one that includes developing the outline for an epic franchise of space fantasy films. It also involves avoiding Darren's older brother and his bullying friends, falling for the same girl (though dating her at different times) and, oh yeah, the secret that Eric doesn't sleep and never has.
Despite having a sci-fi element to it, Pierson keeps his novels and characters ground, interesting and utterly relatable. This is one of those books that had me losing sleep just wanting to spend a few more minutes in the world of Darren and Eric. Of course, it's the girl who comes between our two heroes that leads Darren leaking Eric's secret and the inevitable complications that arise from it.
Pierson's writing is enveloping and this entertaining, charming story has earned a spot on my favorites shelf and it will likely remain there for a long time. I picked up this one in the hopes of scratching a book off my to-be-read pile and discovered a real gem. ...more
A good friend (and fellow Lynley and Havers fan) used to say that she looked forward to each new Elizabeth George novel because it offered her the chaA good friend (and fellow Lynley and Havers fan) used to say that she looked forward to each new Elizabeth George novel because it offered her the chance to catch up with some old friends. I have to admit that I agreed with her at the time and it still holds true today. George writes a compelling mystery, but it's the strength of her characters that keeps me coming back to her books time and again.
No where is that more the case than with the latest entry in the series Just One Evil Act.
Picking up where Believing the Lie left off, Evil Act gives center stage to Barbara Havers. Ath the conclusion of Lie, it was revealed that the former lover of Taymullah Azhar and mother to Hydiah had vanished without a trace with Hydiah. Becuase Azhar never married the mother nor was recognized as Hydiah's father, he has little or no legal recourse is determining where his daughter has gone or in getting her back. Instead, he is forced to turn to private detectives and less than above board means to try and reunite with his daughter and possibly see her return home to him.
Six months later, the mother shows up in London, accusing Azhar of kidnapping their daughter. It seems that someone has taken Hydiah from the Italian marketplace where she and her new lover (and father to her child) shopped each week. Havers is desperate to find a way to help Azhar and get Hydiah back, eventually trying to pressure Scotland Yard to jump into the case by leaking details to a tabloid journalist and forcing the hand of her superior, Isabelle Audrey. Audrey reluctantly goes along but instead of sending Havers to Italy, she sends Lynley.
As events continue to escalate, Havers is forced to go further and further to try and cover her tracks in her attempts to help Azhar. Interestingly, the novel examines issues of trust in the novel and continually asks you to question who you believe and why you believe them. In the case of Barbara, if you're a long time reader of the series, you can't help but begin to feel (as Lynley does) that at some point she's got to wake up and smell the coffee. Multiple clues point to Azhar's involvement and potentially ulterior motives in the case, but Barbara is so blinded by her attraction to Azhar and her love for Hydiah that she refuses to believe them or won't examine them until she gets a chance to talk to Azhar in person.
Meanwhile, it seems as though Barbara is more and more willing to throw her entire career out the window instead of coming clean to Lynley or trying to make things right.
The novel seems to adopt the world-view of one Gregory House in that "Everyone lies" because there are lots of lies going on here, all told with good (for the most part) intentions and intended to achieve what each character perceives as a positive outcome to things (or at least so they imagine).
It all makes for a fascinating, compelling novel, even if (as I've seen several other reviewers complain) a murder doesn't happen until close to halfway through the novel. I feel like many of these complaints are missing the forest for the trees. While George can craft a solid mystery, at this point the Lynley and Havers novels are more than about being a simple "whodunnit?" and intended to be more about the impact certain evil acts can have on the community and the characters.
If you approach the novel from that perspective (as I did), you are likely to love just about every minute of this novel. I will admit the ending left me a bit flummoxed, feeling a bit like George trying too hard to push a reset button of sorts instead of really following through on some of the potential consequences of choices and actions made by characters in this book. But I reserve too much judgment on that until the next novel in the series gets a chance to address these things and possibly offers us some more insight into the fallout. ...more
Most of the time when Stephen King cites a book as an influence or recommends it, I'll give it a whirl. Over the years, I'd say I've enjoyed at leastMost of the time when Stephen King cites a book as an influence or recommends it, I'll give it a whirl. Over the years, I'd say I've enjoyed at least 90% of what King recommends -- either on the pages of Entertainment Weekly or in the forwards or afterwards of his various novels.
One of those recommended reads is Earth Abides which King cites as an influence for one of my favorite works by him, The Stand. And so it was that I scoured a couple of used book stores to find a copy of George R. Stewart's influential, post-apocalyptic novel. And then, it sat on the to be read pile for a while, collecting dust. For a while I just wasn't in the mood for the end of the world as we know it and rebuilding humanity again. But finally, I got into a place where I wanted to read about the world ending and so I finally got around to reading the story of Isherwood Williams (Ish), who survives a mutated strain of the measles thanks to a rattlesnake bite. Isolated in a cabin in the woods (but not the one used in the Joss Whedon movie, mind you), Ish rides out the poison and the disease to find he's one of the last surviving human beings on the planet. He also finds a hammer, which will become pretty important in the days to come -- not only to break into various establishments to gain supplies, but also as a symbol to the community that Ish helps establish.
At first, Ish takes the news that he's one of the last men on Earth fairly well. In fact, I'd have to say that Ish takes it in stride. He takes a cross country tour of America to see the full impact of the disease and if anyone has survived, before returning to the Bay Area. Here he meets a woman named Em, they settle down, get married and start building a new community. Thanks to much of the technology of the time being powered by water falls, things like electricity and running water are around for a lot longer than you'd expect.
The story is told over the course of several years, with long sections focusing on the current situation and then short chapters that fill in what happened in between. It helps keep the novel moving and doesn't dwell too much on the ins and outs of daily life in the post-disease world. And that may be a good thing, though at times the sections that detail the between years end up feeling more like a genealogy than anything else. As the years go along, Ish realizes that his little group has to being to establish things like farming if humanity is going to survive. Ish is also driven to make sure humanity's knowledge and culture aren't forgotten, setting up a school for the younger generation and attempting to preserve the library so the great works of literature and much of humanity's history and knowledge won't be forgotten.
I suppose if I'd read this when it were first published or before I'd read a lot of other end of the world, doomsday novels, it might have had a greater impact on me. As it stands, Earth Abides is a good novel, but it didn't really stand out from the rest of the pack. Stewart creates some vivid, interesting and memorable moments over the course of the novel, but isolated moments don't make up for a lack of overall drive to the plot or any significantly interest characters beyond the central character of Ish. For surviving the end of the world, the characters here have it fairly easy for much of the novel since running water is still around and there is very little, if any, external threat from predators -- either human or animal.
And while Earth Abides was never adapted as a feature film, it was adapted for radio. Escape adapted the novel over two episodes in the 1950's and it's certainly worth a listen. The first part is fairly faithful to the source material, but part two diverges quite a bit. It's still worth a listen, though. You can find both halves of the adaptation HERE.. And if you're worried that by downloading it, the FBI might show up at your door, don't. A majority of OTR shows are public domain these days, so you're free to download, listen and share with family and friends. ...more
I picked up Flood a few years ago, just days before real-life flooding took place in Nashville. And while my family was spared any major damage or dirI picked up Flood a few years ago, just days before real-life flooding took place in Nashville. And while my family was spared any major damage or direct impact from the flooding, I still knew a lot of people whose lives were impacted by it.
And so it was that this novel languished on my to-be-read shelf for what a couple of years. Finally, a few weeks, it rose to the top of my to-be-read pile and I decided enough time had passed that I decided to pick it up and give it a try.
As with all Stephen Baxter novels, there are some fascinating ideas here. There's a lot of solid, hard science and the story about water levels rising on the planet and the consequences of that are told without too much political hay made about climate change or global warming.
It's just too bad that Baxter couldn't create any characters quite as compelling as the situation and the science unfolding on the page. (It's why I'm uncertain of just how exactly his tie-in Doctor Who novel, set in the second Doctor era will go. It could be utterly fantastic or a complete train wreck). The big issue I have with these characters is they're all archetypes and little else. And their story arcs tend to follow a fairly routine and at times predictable path. There aren't enough surprises from a character standpoint. It's not quite as bad as other apocalyptic genre novels (I'm looking at you Lucifer's Hammer) where I wanted the cataclysmic event to occur simply to kill off the characters, but it ws close at times.
However, Baxter does create enough of an interesting mystery as the book closes that, dang it, I will probably pick up the sequel to this one (a library check-out, probably not a purchase) sooner rather than later.
Ironically, as I finished this novel, the local forecast calls for heavy rains this weekend with possible flooding.......more
A good friend always used to comment that she looked forward to the latest Lynley and Havers novel not just because it would have a good mystery, butA good friend always used to comment that she looked forward to the latest Lynley and Havers novel not just because it would have a good mystery, but because she enjoyed her annual check in with Lynley, Havers, Deborah, Helen and Simon.
On a certain level, I have to admit I agreed with her.
Based on that, I should have loved the latest installment in the series from George a lot more than I did. After a couple of books focusing on Lynley in the aftermath of Helen's death, it's nice to see George getting back to including some of her other characters in the story. That doesn't mean that Lynley still isn't haunted a bit by what's happened to Helen and is still grieving (although his engaging in a strictly sexual relationship with his boss at Scotland Yard seems exactly like the kind of rebound relationship both parties would pursue), but this is a novel about Lynley coming out of his mourning and trying to get about the business of living again.
It helps that he's been given a special assignment by Hillier. When the nephew of a family friend of Hillier slips and drowns, Hillier sends Lynley to a small village to make sure that no stone has gone unturned in investigation.
If you're looking for a murder mystery, you won't find one here. George takes a break from his typical "whodunnit" mystery with a story in which Lynley is brought in as a catalyst for a family who makes a regular habit of lying to each other. As the story unfolds, the lies told by various characters in their day to day interaction--not only to each other but also themselves--come to light, all with intriguing and, at times, unintended consequences. But the shining a light into the darkness isn't limited to the cast created for this novel--the light also is shone on the regular characters as well.
All of this works fairly well for the first three quarters of the book as George establishes that everyone has something to hide and something to lose or gain from its coming to light. It's one the revelations start coming in the final quarter of the novel that Believing the Lie drops from what was once a four star book to more a three and a half star one. Simply put, some of the revelations just don't work as well as they should and others test the boundaries of credibility-at least as far as I was willing to go with the story.
That's not to say the ending isn't effective. It just isn't quite as solid as some of previous efforts and many of the revelations surrounding the dead man's family connections fray at the edges.
However, George wisely leaves certain elements hanging in the Havers' story line to ensure I'll be back for her next novel.
Believing the Lie is a thick, long book that it's easy to get lost in for pages at a time. When it's working, it's among the most solid, entertaining and enthralling entries in the series. It's just too bad that the last quarter collapses under its own weight and isn't quite as satisfying as it could or should have been. ...more
I was inspired to finally pull this off the to be read pile when I attended a recent live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion at the historic RymanI was inspired to finally pull this off the to be read pile when I attended a recent live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion at the historic Ryman Auditorium.
Garrison Keillor's stories of his fictional town of Lake Wobegon have been some of my favorite companions during my commute and journeys by car over the years. I've listened to some of my favorites multiple times, even doing a term paper on Keillor years ago while in school. I firmly believe that the Lake Wobegon stories work first and best as audio. So, it's always a bit strange at first to sit down and read them on them on the printed page or woven into the larger context of a full novel.
I've also got to admit that one of my favorite authors has left me cold on his last couple of fictional books concerning his fictional town. I found them too jaded and cynical and at odds when what I recall as being the best aspects of the Lake Wobegon stories.
This collection Life Among the Lutherans is a breath of fresh air after those other recent releases. Centering on the lives of his fictional Lutherans in town, this collection features some of the funniest, wisest and best observed stories Keillor had told not only about that particular denomination but about his fictional creation. It helps when two of the earliest entries are two of my favorites, "Pontoon Boat" in which 24 ministers head out on Wally's new pontoon boat (I love it, but it still works best when Keillor tells it. It's on CD in his second Lake Wobegon set. If you haven't heard it, you should. I'm old enough to have hard it on first broadcast and for years I had an unedited version of the story recorded off the air.) and "The Young Lutheran's Guide to the Orchestra" which asks the question of which instrument would our Savior play. There were some newer stories that I was unfamiliar with in the collection and it was nice to discover a few new gems.
Also in the mix are a couple of poems (that I believe were performed as songs on a PHC). While not quite as memorable as Keillor's "Obedience" or "The Finn Who Would Not Take a Sauna," they're still good.
As a collection, this will sit well on the bookshelf alongside Lake Wobegon Days and Leaving Home. Keillor is a great storyteller and this collection shows off some of his best. ...more
James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes languished on my to-be-read pile ever since it was nominated for the Hugo Award a couple of years ago. I'm not sureJames S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes languished on my to-be-read pile ever since it was nominated for the Hugo Award a couple of years ago. I'm not sure what this says about me as a reader, but it was news that the novel was being developed for a potential SyFy series that finally drove me to crack the cover and give it a chance.
Also, the notion that with the series reaching a fourth book and getting some good buzz, I'd better jump in now or risk being so far behind that I'd never want to catch up.
I'm glad I waded into the book because it's one of the more enjoyable space opera novels I've read in a long time. Space opera can be a bit bleak at times and while this one does have those moments, it still manages to rise above them at others and keep things entertaining. Part of it could be the parallel stories that intersect at just the right point and then continue to escalate events from there. Part of the hook is that one is a mystery set within this genre universe and that helped me to connect to the story and want to keep reading. It also helps that both storylines reveal different aspects of the politics of this universe and how they are unfolding and developing. Even the info-dumps necessary for a novel like this don't feel like the entire plot is screeching to a halt in order to have characters stop and give us information we need in order for the story to continue.
And while this one is the start of a series, it's self-contained enough to leave me feeling satisfied once the final page is turned. Yes, I want to come back but I don't feel like I've read an 500-page prologue for the next book in the series. ...more