**spoiler alert** A brilliant conception for a story is diminished by amateur prose, poor logic and internal consistency, lack of exploration of the d**spoiler alert** A brilliant conception for a story is diminished by amateur prose, poor logic and internal consistency, lack of exploration of the deep philosophical vistas the writer apparently accidently opens, and a failure to recognize what constitutes the central conflicts and story arcs of the story. Hint to the author: this isn't a story about killing a monster. The difference between this being a fun book, and something like The Hobbit, is Tolkien knew that slaying the dragon was only tangential to the story's real emotional arc. From the perspective of what the story is actually about, killing the monster is a necessary act for Jacob, only because it represents him coming into the maturity he needs to be able to resolve the stories major conflicts.
A major problem for me with the book, is that the writing is on a 5th grade level and the characters act and think much like young children. Yet, to go with this cluelessness we have a book that is filled with harsh and crude language. This makes it very hard to decide who the story is pitched at. I've tagged this book 'young-adult', but the truth is that it's really a children's book with a bunch of profanity thrown in to give it a sort of superficial maturity. The book is probably best enjoyed by 5th or 6th graders, as they will overlook the protagonists exceedingly slow grasp of the situation and the excess of telling and not showing, the lack of emotional maturity, or philosophical depth. But at the same time, the brutal language and occasional graphic gore demands an older reader, capable of filtering and testing what they read. So this is a book for precocious 10 year olds, or intellectually stunted adults? I'm not entirely sure. Suffice to say that I was left wanting a lot more, and at the same time left wanting a more sensitively told story if this was to be children's literature.
By wanting more I mean the major emotional arcs of the transfer of Emma's love from Abraham to Jacob, surely a serious subject, is brought up in full seriousness, but then ignored. The rift between Jacob and Abraham, and between Jacob and his father, and between his father and his grandfather, is never really healed satisfactorily. Bronwyn's attachment to her brother is given more closure than anything that the major protagonist of the story is involved in, and even that isn't given enough time - being mentioned only as a sort of coda without dialogue.
It's a first novel, and it shows. The book is filled with little lost opportunities to tie threads together or give greater meaning to earlier scenes, or simply make a scene actually work logically and visually. Why spend a lengthy scene taking photographs of Emma on your phone, only to ignore that later on when the question of evidence becomes of paramount importance to the story? Either the story needs to be pared down, or some more serious adult conversations need to occur. And again, to contrast with Tolkien, why spend so much time killing monsters on stage, and then relegate the far more important and emotionally impactful story of resolving the fissure between father and son to off screen events? And for that matter, how did the 'breathing tube' work? Why don't Jacob and Abraham meet, both leaving the loop on the morning of September 4, 1940? Why do the villagers not remember the children escaping, given that they never really seek to hide their departure the way the internal logic of the story demands? How many children are there: a great many, as implied by pictures in the photo album and the descriptions of the school when Jacob finds it, or just ten, as is stated at the end of the story when he leaves it?
I enjoyed the story, and I'll likely read the next one, but given the high conception of the story, I've rarely read a novel more in need and more obviously in need of having passed through the hands of an experienced author or editor, before being returned to the new author for a final revision. ...more
I'm the arrogant sort of person who when I rate a book think that there is some objective element to my rating, and that I'm not merely rating how mucI'm the arrogant sort of person who when I rate a book think that there is some objective element to my rating, and that I'm not merely rating how much I personally enjoyed the book, but also on some level how worthy the book is of enjoyment and how much quality was exercised in the crafting of the book from the level of the individual sentence on up to its grand conceptions and story arc. You might say that in rating a book, my expectation is that everyone else will enjoy the book to within +/- a star of what I rated it, depending on how much the material personally appealed to you and how much - for whatever reasons - you were willing to overlook the books evident flaws. Otherwise, if I did not in fact believe this, whatever would be the reason for rating a book, for if my rating was wholly subjective it would do you no good whatsoever.
Mary Roach's book "Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War" and similar books challenge those presumptions somewhat, in that I don't think a simple one dimensional rating system can in this case predict how much the book will be enjoyed. While for me the book was largely, "Meh" and parts of it were grating, that's because the book is pitched at a target audience that just falls outside of anything that would be a sweet spot for me.
What's Roach is writing is essentially a primer on basic science and engineering, organized around one of the most interesting fields of basic research in the world today - America's high tech war machine. In an academic world too often focused more on publishing results than doing good work, much less doing anything hard and then managing to repeat it, the Defense Department could care less about how much you publish or where you publish, just so long as you give them tangible solutions. It's research wing DARPA is continually at the forefront of progress. Yet for all this, it's also not just interested in fighting the next war, but also the next and the next, and so very interested in the basic research that may lead to great advances way down the line.
Roach approaches this material from a welcome angle, of looking at the less glamorous less macho programs that aim not to create better means of killing people, but rather solve other equally important basic problems of being human in a battlefield environment. For most of human history, man versus nature was still more lethal and more important on a battlefield than the other tribe with its weapons trying to kill you. Infection, disease, starvation, and exposure to the environment killed more men on most military campaigns than the battles did. Roach puts a lens on the modern Defense department's continuing research into keeping soldiers physically and mentally fit during the hardships and horrors of war, and she does so with a self-deprecating, rapier wit and an outsider's eye for the unusual, the bizarre, and details others might miss.
It could be the making of a book I really enjoy, but the basic problem here is - I already know most of the stuff she covers. For me, the book would have been more interesting had it been taken in one of two directions. Either it would have been more enjoyable for me to focus less on the science, and more on the persons involved in the science and the interesting characters she discovers along the way and the anecdotes about them. This is information I don't have, and some of the biographies she uncovers are interesting in their own right - but she doesn't ever go into these people in any great depth, relying instead on deft caricature to set the stage like a comic book artist or a good Game Master. On the other hand, when she delves into the actual science and engineering, I occasionally discovered something I didn't know before, but then all too quickly she was plowing on to some other topic or providing some basic exposition of another fundamental aspect of the science or engineering problem being discussed. As a result, she never actually went into any one subject with the depth I would have liked.
And all this time she's trying to be a comedian as well, with varying degree of success. Personally, as a near autistic, many of her wry asides just struck me as being mean spirited. She had enough empathy for her audience that I didn't feel like she was treating the reader to a tour through a carnival freak show - "Come see the geeks" - but at times I did feel like she felt her desired audience wouldn't understand her empathy, and she still needed to convince them that she wasn't one of the nerds and that she certainly didn't approve of this whole military thing so that she'll still get invited to parties with the right sort of people in SF. That is to say, some of the humor seemed a bit jarring and out of place, like she was two people - one admiring interviewer and the other hidden one that was laughing at who she was interviewing -and she was better when her asides and jokes were humble.
In short, I'm convinced that for the right sort of person who has never even thought of these sort of things, and who enjoys science even if they don't practice it themselves, or has a narrow field of view and hasn't looked much at the big picture this is a five star book. Mrs. Roach has in effect here done admirable journalism and investigation, and turned obscure but important areas of endeavor into a readable funny work suitable for wide consumption. Despite the three stars, I strongly recommend this book to anyone who doesn't have any interest in the military, or whose interest in either science or the military has been at most casual....more
More of the same, which, isn't as charming the second time through.
In particular, if you are going to write a series, something about your story needsMore of the same, which, isn't as charming the second time through.
In particular, if you are going to write a series, something about your story needs to progress. Either your characters and themes need to grow, or else the scenery needs to change in interesting ways. Too much of this story was a retread of where we were in the previous story. Obviously, a story of this sort doesn't need to be realistic, but it ought to be self-consistent. Sophronia's school girl hijinks seem fairly lame considering the scale and scope of her enemies, and the light hearted innocence is increasingly at odds with the darkness and seriousness of the setting. The ending was disappointing. You don't set up the bad guys as 20th level, then expect the reader to believe the third level kids are outwitting them in ways than seem better suited to Looney Tunes.
Overall, there seems to be too much reluctance to deal with the fact that these little girls are training to be assassins in a setting which plays for keeps, except, apparently, with regards to meddlesome kids. Either stop fussing around with adult themes of murder and the like, or let Sophronia get enough blood on her hands that the reader - and the other characters - are justified in taking her seriously....more
Cleverly done droll absurdities, the occasional witty rapport or retort, lively pacing, and a clear understanding of the needs of a story make up forCleverly done droll absurdities, the occasional witty rapport or retort, lively pacing, and a clear understanding of the needs of a story make up for the stories predictable plot, stock characters, and ambitions as heavy as a meringue pie and as serious as the pie gags that frame the story. ...more
This was left on the kitchen table with a note that read, "A book for Daddy to read", along with a big red heart.
How could you refuse that?
In a nutsheThis was left on the kitchen table with a note that read, "A book for Daddy to read", along with a big red heart.
How could you refuse that?
In a nutshell, it's Stephen King for 5th graders. My rating is probably unfair, given that I'm not really the target audience. Clearly my own 5th grader liked it well enough.
But then again, I'm rarely sure what the target audience for Stephen King is, since he usually reads like "Horror for junior high kids, plus graphic adult themes." Which may explain why I find King at his best is King writing shorter stories for his own children. Still, Stephen at his best is disturbing and this is fairly disturbing, and if your 4th or 5th grader is the sensitive imaginative sort, this might be a bit too disturbing to them.
However, I for one approve of children slaying monsters, and of the horrid plans of the villain being thwarted by bravery and grit, so I wasn't too disturbed to find my kid had developed a taste for ghastly stuff....more
It was a fast fun read and I think I could have given it 4 stars but.... the plot holes for me were just painful. I had no suspension of disbelief forIt was a fast fun read and I think I could have given it 4 stars but.... the plot holes for me were just painful. I had no suspension of disbelief for this whatsoever, and beyond that for this sort of near future work that is entirely built around a geek's ability to overly analyze something, I don't believe I should have to.
I won't even get into the ludicrously stupid economics on display in the book, because that will just get into huge arguments. Instead, let me focus on one tiny but critical plot point as symptomatic of the whole story - the method by which the protagonist jumps to the head of the race.
Now, according to the author the part of the clue regarding the marked letters was discovered almost immediately by hundreds of members of the geek community analyzing the text. That's reasonably believable, although in my opinion it would get discovered in the first 24 hours and be public with 24 hours instead of six months. But, after discovering the second clue, the whole of geekdom gets stuck for 5 years.
That's freakin' ridiculous both logically and in the context of the protagonists discovery. The basic problem is that the problem as presented is amendable to a brute force approach. Let me explain.
In the text, as soon as the protagonist figures out the clue and determines which planet the key is on, he subjects the surface of the planet to an advanced image search routine which returns a 100% positive match after 10 minutes of searching. If that is true, the copper key should have been found 5 years ago.
To begin with 'Tomb of Horrors' is not some little known bit of trivia buried back in 1978. It's the single most famous Pen and Paper RPG in existence. If a nerd knows the name of any RPG module, they know about Tomb of Horrors. The clue about a "tomb filled with horror" couldn't be more transparent to the nerd community if you tried. The module has been remade in numerous formats since 1978, and been revisited multiple times in other products. 3D models of the entire module are in existence, and it's one of the most common fan projects to create the tomb as a custom level of a video game in any game that allows level editing (which is just about all of them, since even if the designers don't provide for it, hackers will). So there is zero chance that any nerd seeing the second clue wouldn't get what it referred to, much less any nerd studying a D&D playing 80's obsessed autistic because the entire culture is obsessed with the 80's. I'll leave aside the problem that the author trivializes how difficult the module would be to run solo without access to even low level potions, and get to my main point.
We know from the text that the protagonist runs the search on an obsolete laptop with only a fraction of the computing power of a modern machine. But for now, let's just ignore that and compute how long it would take to search the entire game universe using the same technique. We know from the text that there are 27 game sectors, each containing "hundreds" of worlds with the total number of worlds in the "thousands". We also know that the Ludos world is a bit on the smallish side. Assuming 400 worlds on average per sector, and that Ludos has a surface area but 10th average, using only as much computing power as the protagonist has, the entire game universe can be searched in a bit over 2 years. According to the text - quite unbelievably - no where else in the game universe contains a recreation of Tomb of Horrors. There are no false positives. As soon as you find the Ludos instance, your search is done.
Does this mean we should expect it to take 2 years to search the game universe in a brute force manner? Not the in slightest. In fact, we should expect it to take at most mere hours. Let's suppose that the protagonists obsolete laptop has 1/10th the computing power of the most recent generation of machines. That means that a single idiot with a bit more money could have brute forced a solution in just 75 days. But, that assumes we are dealing with an idiot. The image searching is well behaved algorithm that is easily distributed. Any reasonably well funded hacker with just a bit of programming knowledge could have rented time on a server cluster or spun up a virtual cluster in the cloud for the equivalent of a few hundred dollars. We know they could, because the technology to do that is explicitly stated by the author as how the game itself works. Using a relatively small cluster, the search time could easily be brought down to a dozen hours.
But that's hardly the end of it. Because a really well funded corporation could have thrown a million nodes at this problem, more or less finding the location of the Tomb of Horrors instantly as soon as the second clue was known. And it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility of a Gunter guild to do the exact same thing. After all, with billions of dollars on the line, a guild could easily get its members to pony up money to fund a search. Moreover, the entirety of Geekdom here acts like an Army of Davids. Millions of geeks would start working on this problem almost simultaneously, collectively throwing resources at the problem that match the resources of corporations or governments. With millions of geeks searching simultaneously, at least some of them would start in sector 1 or even with the planet Ludos and find the answer in mere minutes. Within just an hour or two of the release of the puzzle, the Tomb of Horrors instance would be the most well known secret in the world. And with no PvP, and no instancing of the dungeon (there is no sign the OASIS system uses instancing at all, which is a huge and possibly fatal oversight in the design), there would be a queue of millions of players standing in front of Acererak spamming requests to play like a bunch of old school Runequest or Ultima Online players queuing up in front of a favored spawn point. Luck would play a far bigger role in who got through than skill.
The whole puzzle is just riddled with design errors like that, most of which could be alleviated by more thoughtful writing and more understanding of how games and the geek community actually works. Instead, the whole thing comes off as someone who did some study of geeks and nerds and spent a whole book cluelessly name dropping stuff he didn't really understand, like the poseur in the story I-Rok (or whatever his name was). All in all it struck me as being something like 'Big Bang Theory', which non-geeks generally assume geeks love, but which geeks tend to find to be just another story filled with tiresome negative stereotypes about geeks and which spends most of its time laughing at geeks rather than laughing with them. ...more
Rarely do I ever enjoy short stories. This proved no different.
The writing wasn't good enough to makeIt's a collection of short stories and novellas.
Rarely do I ever enjoy short stories. This proved no different.
The writing wasn't good enough to make me want to seek out the other four volumes. At times I got the impression though that the reason everything seemed so trite was that all this was so original and influential when it first came out that everything since had copied from it....more