Despite its subject material, the Forever War is not a shallow story of combat heroism and bug eyed aliens. In style it has much in common with worksDespite its subject material, the Forever War is not a shallow story of combat heroism and bug eyed aliens. In style it has much in common with works like the Deer Hunter, dealing with issues of war without meaning, and readjusting to civilian society. It's a book of its time, written by a Vietnam War veteran, but set in the far, and further, future.
It was a groundbreaking work in the 70s, and it feels modern even today. Unlike contemporary works, like Niven's The Mote in God's Eye, which is plagued with horrendous female stereotypes, The Forever War is suffused in 70s liberalism. In Niven's future, women are unwelcome in the military, and serve only to be stubbornly and repeatedly wrong about everything. In Haldeman's future, woman are equal partners in combat, and homosexuality is celebrated as the norm. It feels fresh and radical, breaking with the established norms of the genre.
Unfortunately as a story it didn't work for me - it's a mostly interesting read, and Haldeman's style is engaging, but large parts of it are detail - combat and physics, the two areas of Haldeman's expertise. The story didn't seem to be about much of anything, and while the science is always rock solid, some of the societal predictions are laughably unlikely. In the end it felt like a patchwork of Haldeman's life experiences, propelled into the next century on a wobbly raft of future think. ...more
This is one book that would have welcomed the efforts of a hard working editor. At times Twain's brilliance and humour come shining through, especiallThis is one book that would have welcomed the efforts of a hard working editor. At times Twain's brilliance and humour come shining through, especially in his fascinating observations of the lives of Germans and the tourists who walk through their midst. But too often he gets sidetracked with less stellar tales that belong in another book: drifting back to the US for "A Tramp at Home", recounting legends and folk tales that feel ripped from another writer's guidebook, and complete fantasies of his own creation. But in between the somewhat dull sidetracking, the eminent quoteability of many of Twain's passages show his sharp eye and wit; "The Germans are exceedingly fond of Rhine wines; they are put up in tall, slender bottles, and are considered a pleasant beverage. One tells them from vinegar by the label." ...more
Zombies are dumb. On a micro scale, when your heroes are loners or small, disorganised groups, they are credible monsters. When you look at Zombies wiZombies are dumb. On a micro scale, when your heroes are loners or small, disorganised groups, they are credible monsters. When you look at Zombies within a bigger frame, say a global war, then their stupidity becomes a problem.
Normally, as a writer, you end up with plot holes in your story. You would always love to fix them, but time pressure or other factors mean they have to stay. Some writers try to explain plot holes away with exposition, most try to avoid shining a light on them. Most people don't notice small ones unless you say "hey! look at this!"
In World War Z, Max Brooks shines a great spotlight on Zombie stupidity. Each chapter is a close up view of one person's experience of the Zombie war against humanity. We explore every possible angle of Zombie behaviour, and human ingenuity in fighting them. And one thing becomes very clear: To lose a war against Zombies you must be even more stupid than they are.
According the Brooks, Zombies are slow, brainless, can be sniffed out and lured by dogs, and their only weapon is their bite. Simple solutions don't seem to occur to the vast majority of people in this war. Why one group didn't dig a deep ditch, lure the Zombies into it with dogs, and then just fill it with concrete is beyond me.
And that's the thing with this book. It's an enjoyable read, mostly well written, with a couple of barnstorming chapters, but if you are like me your interest in the book will last as long as you can believe that the premise of the story is credible: That Zombies could wage a war with humanity and not be stumped at the first hurdle, like Daleks meeting a stairway.
Thankfully for me that interest lasted about 80% of the book. That's because most of the book focuses on the build up to the final confrontation, and so is a mish-mash of tales from all over the world, focusing on what Zombie stories do best - small scale confrontations. When the world fights back, led by no other than the US of A, it starts to look a bit silly. ...more
Tahir Shar's tale of leaving everything behind to renovate a decrepit house in Casablanca is so wonderful, so surprising, so delightful and so incrediTahir Shar's tale of leaving everything behind to renovate a decrepit house in Casablanca is so wonderful, so surprising, so delightful and so incredible that I find it hard to believe it's actually true. But that's ok. I'm happy for a great storyteller to blend fact with fiction when the result is as brilliant as this. I can't remember another novel where I've been drawn so vividly into a world that I didn't want to leave.
From the moment the deeds are signed to the sound of bombs going off in Casablanca, Shah takes you on a wild ride of djinns and exorcisms, plots and police raids and a constant battle with staff and workers whose psyche and behaviours he struggles to understand. The writing is beautifully simple, and the characters so broad to be almost burlesque, but Shah handles them all so deftly they never fall into parody, except for perhaps one shifty Enid Blytonesque rogue in a cafe off Boulevard Hassan II. In all it feels like a more ancient tale than it actually is, like something from the Arabian Nights.
A family moving to an exotic country to renovate a old house full of secrets would make a great story by itself. The fact that Shah is a master weaver of tales, someone who can keep many plot threads running at once without ever letting the pace slip or allowing the narrative to muddy. For a story drawn from his life, something that rarely fits neatly into a plot, he wraps up all the threads with a bow, while still leaving you to ask questions about what happens next. I really want to know what happened with the gangster after they found the original plan of the Capliph's House! ...more
I can't say I was filled with excitement at the prospect of reading a thousand page history of Prussia. The state was famed for its bureaucrats ratherI can't say I was filled with excitement at the prospect of reading a thousand page history of Prussia. The state was famed for its bureaucrats rather than its brilliant or bloodthirsty leaders. I approached the book more out of a sense of duty than anything else, a slight feeling of shame for having lived in Germany for over five years and yet not having much more of an understanding of its history beyond World War 2.
But Clarke is a brilliant writer, fully able to express his fascination for the development of Prussian civilization, while capturing the poignant moments and surprising characters that helped and hindered it. More than that he successfully takes a modern stereotype, born of the later years of World War 2, that Nazism was the inevitable outcome of Prussianism, and destroys it. He does this not by painting a picture of ideal Prussian society, but by peeling back layer after layer of Prussian history and showing us exactly how and why events turned out the way they did.
In fact far from showing us a militaristic Prussian state that would inevitably lead us to World War 2, he instead shows us a weak, exposed Prussia, one that survived partly by luck, and partly by establishing a complex array of alliances. It shows us a Prussia that desperately wanted to avoid war, remaining neutral in many conflicts to the great annoyance of its allies. It shows us a Prussia that surged ahead with egalitarian Enlightenism, with advanced levels of religious tolerance and emancipation. It also shows us the missteps, the misplaced aggression, the growth of and failure to control the military, the flirtation with destruction both from without and within.
Although Clarke never actually argues this, it is clear from the evidence he presents that Prussia was fated not to manifest itself as Nazism, but to become entangled in World War 1 and fail in such a way as to never be able to recover. The mess of ever changing alliances that had allowed Prussia to succeed against the odds, when it started as nothing more than a patch of swamp surrounded by enemies, would inevitably lead to a system that would trigger its own apocalypse.
Probably the greatest scandal the book exposes, again without ever arguing this directly, is the way the myth of the warmongering, blindly obedient German obsessed with order has enabled the Allies to absolve themselves of all guilt regarding the rise of the Nazis. If we ignore the real nature of Prussian history we can convince ourselves that the way Germany was treated by the Versailles treaty, and the way that left the country exposed to the brutal ravages of a series of economic catastrophes, had nothing to do with the Nazis and the horrors they wrought upon the world.
Like Prussia's history the truth is a lot more complex than many of us would like to believe. ...more
Tim Powers invented Pirates of the Caribbean in 1987 but it took until the third movie before scriptwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rosario noticed theTim Powers invented Pirates of the Caribbean in 1987 but it took until the third movie before scriptwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rosario noticed the connection and added On Stranger Tides to the title. But the novel is more than a movie sequel - it's a smart action adventure in its own right with plenty of fine writing and original ideas. The world is vividly crafted, pulling together the themes of piracy and voodoo. The story is fantastical, but is so well grounded in history, so logically watertight and so thoroughly researched, that it feels like it could be real - maybe magic really does fade with modernity.
The book is gripping, fascinating and funny, but it does have a few failings. The plot is very complicated, and while I think Power's kept it all hanging together, I struggled to keep up with the characters who often died and were reborn with different bodies and different names in different places with all of a sudden new motivations that caused conflict and fights that seemed only there to draw rapid conclusions and provide another carefully metered action scene. And if you think that last sentence was long, the run-ons in this book can be over 200 words.
If you like Pirates of the Caribbean, or you like your action adventures to challenge your grey matter, then there's a lot to like in On Stranger Tides. ...more
Read this because I was visiting Boston and it hit all the right notes with action happening in many famous places in Boston. But more than that it waRead this because I was visiting Boston and it hit all the right notes with action happening in many famous places in Boston. But more than that it was a great read with wit, intrigue, suspense and brilliant characterization. I'm not a big fan of the crime genre, but this one made me want to read more Lehane. ...more
The sci-fi in Blindsight is so beautifully written it approaches poety at times. Peter Watts really knows his science, and it shows through his expertThe sci-fi in Blindsight is so beautifully written it approaches poety at times. Peter Watts really knows his science, and it shows through his expert writing and passion for the subject. Even when you don't understand exactly what is going on, it still feels incredible. He has a particular skill for putting the reader right there, in the spot. His visio-spatial skills are such that it feels sometimes Peter was referencing a real 3D model of Theseus when describing life on the ship.
The characters were not so strong. Fascinating, but sometimes so bizarre and inhuman as to cause me to jolt out of the narrative world. For the most part that wasn't a problem, because they were often just vehicles for explaining the incredible concepts that underpin the story. But when we delved deeper into the protagonist's life on earth, through his relationship with "Chels", it hit a particular low. I would have happily had those parts cut and it would have brought the otherwise high quality story up to a five star score. ...more
If Peter Watts is hard science fiction, then John Scalzi is clearly a master of the soft core variety. This is a Star Trek world where aliens are bareIf Peter Watts is hard science fiction, then John Scalzi is clearly a master of the soft core variety. This is a Star Trek world where aliens are barely disguised ethnic stereotypes. He doesn't push any boundaries and what little extant science is contained in the narrative is explained by characters who "can't do math", so it doesn't really matter when it makes no sense. It seems to exist mostly to catapult the characters into a universe full of human eating aliens that can be stomped by starship troopers torn straight from the pages of Heinlein, only without any politics to worry yourself about.
Scalzi's characters are like a favourite old jumper: warm, comfortable, timeworn and overly familiar. They are immediately likable, because you've met them in a hundred books and movies already. But Scalzi puts such an interesting spin on each one that even when R. Lee Ermey himself appears in cameo, he has enough self-reflection to become his own man. In general the characters make the story, and are deftly handled with the exception of a few that are thrown in as obvious plot devices.
It's light reading for sure, but very entertaining. The characters are familiar, but credible, and with them he builds an extremely well paced tale that pulls you along to a satisfying, if somewhat dull, conclusion. You can tell it was serialized on his blog originally, because each chapter leaves you wanting to come back and discover the next secret. The only problem with that being that by the end of the book there aren't really any great secrets to discover. ...more
As a book it captures the zeitgeist of low-rent Australia at the end of the 20th century, if little else. It's funny, but short and let down by the apAs a book it captures the zeitgeist of low-rent Australia at the end of the 20th century, if little else. It's funny, but short and let down by the apocryphal, ridiculous and poorly written stories that intersperse Birmingham's own memoirs. ...more
A fascinating observation of three irredeemable characters. Life has thrown each one of them under a truck and left them with only the bare traces ofA fascinating observation of three irredeemable characters. Life has thrown each one of them under a truck and left them with only the bare traces of humanity. It's hard to empathize with them, but Thompson works hard to find some connection, even if only through a desire for money. But ultimately we are left aghast at just how manipulative and cold-hearted people can be. The book grabs your attention like a bloody bar brawl....more
Orwell's 1984 is an important novel not so much because it is a brilliant and terrifying story, but because in visualising that dystopian future so viOrwell's 1984 is an important novel not so much because it is a brilliant and terrifying story, but because in visualising that dystopian future so vividly, Orwell gave us a language to deny it. Neologisms like "big brother", "thoughtcrime" and "doublethink" have entered our vocabulary, and allow us to properly describe government and popular actions that threaten to take us down the road to 1984. It's proof that when an idea is given a human narrative, it gains an immense power to transform. ...more