I have limited experience with Dave Eggers, so I have trouble comparing this novel to his other work, but I really enjoyed it. I was extremely surprisI have limited experience with Dave Eggers, so I have trouble comparing this novel to his other work, but I really enjoyed it. I was extremely surprised to see how poorly it was received. It is an odd novel, that’s for sure, told exclusively in dialogue. The ultimate exercise in “show, don’t tell.” For such a restriction, Eggers did an excellent job creating a setting. I had a clear picture of the entire setting, and even though I occasionally had trouble telling what time of day it was, the sensory details were all there in my head. Further, I’d say that I had equally clear pictures of the characters, which was a common complaint from critics. Particularly with the main character, I could get as far as describing his clothes and facial hair.
If you ask me, I think this was poorly reviewed because it didn’t resonate with a lot of people. The position Thomas is in feels very familiar to me, as a young white male who grew up in a middle class family. Thomas is ultimately missing an existential purpose. There is tension between a lot of different stresses and pressures. On the one hand, Thomas is victim of circumstance. His home life was out of his control, and he suffered under his mother’s string of boyfriends and her own negligence. He was, arguably, sexually abused as a kid. On the other hand, however, he still had the ability to make his own choices. Making a scene at the hospital and trying to burn it down cannot be excused by any childhood malady. This question of how much is within or without our control is the central question of the novel, in my opinion.
Thomas’ first victim, the astronaut Kev, is the anchor that his argument rests upon. Kev could have been the victim of his circumstance. Instead of abandoning his dreams as a kid after difficulties in his family, he stuck with it and became an astronaut. Despite his hard work and pulling himself up by his bootstraps and so on, he still lost the ability to get on the space shuttle because of NASA’s lack of funding. Kev is the guy who could have gone wrong, but didn’t, and was still made a victim of the man.
Don, the invisible presence that seems to haunt Thomas, is the opposite. He made bad choices despite what he had going for him. His death by the police’s excessive force was wrong, but it was ultimately still his choice. Part of the mystery of the novel is that we cannot truly know what happened to Don. We can never know if he was truly a threat or if the use of force was truly excessive. All we can do is compare him to Kev. In the end, neither got what they wanted.
I think that Thomas is the victim of Plato’s “Great Fiction,” that anyone can do what they want if they put their minds to it. That is simply not true, no matter how many times our generation has been told. I don’t know what Thomas was expecting, and he doesn’t either. Whatever it is, it wasn’t this. He’s caught between people telling him that he’s not a victim, being legitimately victimized, hearing the Great Fiction, and realizing that it’s been a lie. Everything has just been so vanilla, so dull, so boring, but efforts to change it are quashed by unseen forces higher up on some unseen chain of command.
It’s a tough thing to describe without sounding like an asshole, but I think Eggers does it. Thomas just doesn't “get it.” I personally believe that he can make the choices he wants, but I do completely feel his struggle. The general sense that something, probably a sense of meaning and purpose, is missing. Being pulled in so many different directions by so many people. Facing this faceless bureaucracy that everyone else seems to be a part of. Public figures don’t have your best interests at heart, anyone can be kicked out of anywhere at an accusation of insanity, parents don’t put their kids first, an accusation of rape is just as harmful as a conviction, groups can stick together to mask the truth etc. etc.
In the end, Eggers is describing a hole, a nothingness, and if you don’t have that hole in yourself, then you can’t get it. Well, I don’t “get” this world, but as a result, I do “get” this book. All of these ideas are coming out of a novel constructed of strictly dialogue. I think that’s a hell of a book. ...more
Well, you can’t write a review of The Shining without comparing it to the movie, so let’s get that out of the way first. I love Stanley Kubrick, and IWell, you can’t write a review of The Shining without comparing it to the movie, so let’s get that out of the way first. I love Stanley Kubrick, and I loved The Shining for years before I read the book. I know that Stephen King doesn’t particularly like the film, and I can understand why now. A lot of the themes were changed, a lot of content was removed, and the ending is drastically different. It’s a very personal novel for King, so I can understand why he wouldn’t like the adaptation. Honestly, I don’t have much sympathy for him. Any author would give their life to have their novel adapted by Stanley Kubrick. And regardless of his personal feelings for his own book, the Shining is a phenomenal movie. It’s different enough that I don’t think it diminishes the book at all. Much in the same way Peter Jackson made a good adaptation of LotR by sticking to the core of the story and changing/deleting in ways to support that core, so did Kubrick stay true to what made The Shining a good novel, and made changes that would be better for the film.
So, now that that’s done, here’s my review of the novel itself.
I’m not very familiar with King’s writing, but I was surprised by a few things. It really was a page turner, honestly. I guess I was expecting it to be lower quality. That’s probably my own prejudice against authors that churn out work as quickly as he does. Quantity does not mean quality, but at least in this case, King definitely did achieve quality. His characterization was very strong. I had clear pictures of every character in my head, and they didn’t always coincide with the film, which is a really amazing achievement. I think Scatman Crothers and Jack Nicholson will always be those characters in peoples’ minds, but they were just so damn perfect that I think that’s totally fine. The other characters, Danny, Wendy, and Ullman (Al, too,) were extremely well drawn, and remained wholly separate in my head from the actors in the film.
King’s descriptive abilities are well known, and I’d say rightful so. He created a strong sense of claustrophobia. The family’s quarters feel dangerously small and exposed by the end. The Overlook itself is perfectly described in its isolation, which is easy to do with big snowstorms, but I felt the isolation on Closing Day, weeks before snow fell. However, I do feel that it lacked a sense of simultaneous agoraphobia, which is what I think he was going for. I didn’t feel lost in the hotel. It seemed a lot like the Wyndham hotel I worked at in Gettysburg. Everything seemed like straight shots off the lobby. I got the sense that it was a big hotel, but there is an important difference between big and labyrinthine. Creating that tension between the isolation, the maze, and the close quarters is an extremely difficult task, and I don’t think less of King for not doing it perfectly, but I definitely noticed.
Ultimately, the novel can rest its laurels on its horrifying honesty. It’s hard for me to say how I would have felt if I hadn’t known about King’s life ahead of time, but the novel just felt like it was totally autobiographical, which it was. The Shining was King exploring his own feelings toward his own addiction. That’s part of writing, right? Everything is autobiographical at a certain level. But this was noticeably so, and that’s not necessarily a compliment. There were times when I felt removed from the action, because I was considering King’s own life, rather than Jack Torrence’s. But still, for any weakness this might have created, particularly around Jack’s character, it was a tremendous boon for the honesty of the story. The real horror here isn’t the ghosts in The Overlook, it’s the reality of alcoholism. King pulls no punches about Jack’s violence toward those around him, his family, and himself. We can see and hear and nearly smell the beatings Jack’s father gives to his mother, and the similar experiences Jack has with Danny and Wendy. We can feel Jack’s fear, and can later feel Danny’s just as strong. This is something I was not expecting. I supposed that blood and guts were a necessary part of King’s repertoire, but I didn’t expect it to be from such non-supernatural sources.
The relationships between the family members are described just as well as the horror of addiction. We can feel the tension between Jack’s violent tendencies and his very genuine love for his family. That’s tough to do. Like all humans, Jack is big enough to hold two contradictory emotions within himself. He truly loves his wife and son, and truly hates himself. He truly believes in his own infallibility, and truly believes all his problems are Wendy’s fault. And Wendy’s contradictions are just as well crafted. She too truly loves Jack, and is truly afraid of him. It is very telling that when Jack descends to the depths of insanity, she keeps telling Danny that the thing attacking them is not truly Jack, it is The Overlook, and I think she really believes. Jack is a deeply flawed man fighting for goodness. The attacker is the hotel. (Side note – Even as I write this, I question my own analysis. Does Wendy tell Danny that the attacker isn’t truly Jack because King wants to be relieved of fault for his own alcoholism? Is this passage more of a form of wish fulfillment, that he could act on his alcoholic urges while still blaming them on an external force? I can’t tell what is good story telling and what is wish fulfillment.)
Probably the major stumbling block I see in The Shining is its length. Obviously, I have no problem with long books, but The Shining just seemed to drag on and on. Danny had too many seizures/premonitions, it took too long to admit that something supernatural was happening in The Overlook, we spent too much time with Dick trying to get up to the snow surrounded hotel. I found the entire idea of the topiary animals coming to life to stalk Danny and Jack, and later to defend the hotel, just a little tired. That idea has to have been more fully explored in earlier works by some other author. They didn’t match the novel at all, if you ask me. Imagining these giant green, leafy lions walking around doesn’t match the blizzard isolation that King spent so much time creating. What I enjoyed about the film was that almost everything could be explained as non-supernatural, so alcoholism truly became the villain. In the novel, that’s not as true. However, everything supernatural that did occur was related to the hotel and its past. The building was slipping through time, back and forth, and the ghastly residents of the hotel were not so much ghosts as they were psychic residue that broke free from our normal time line. The topiary animals really didn’t have anything to do with the crimes committed in The Overlook in the past. I found them unnecessary and unconvincing and out of place.
So all in all, yes, I liked the novel. King did a lot of difficult things very well. It faltered only at a bit of over indulgence you would expect from a young, gifted, inexperienced writer. In a novel so dominated by so few characters, it is obviously important that those characters be perfected, and King got them pretty damn perfect. It works as a horror novel, a classic haunted house story, but also succeeds in creating the most lasting, psychologically disturbing horror through a distinctly non-supernatural source: alcoholism. I think that’s a great achievement. ...more
I, Claudius is a novel with a title more famous than the book. In some ways, the title may be the best part of the novel. That’s partially a joke. I aI, Claudius is a novel with a title more famous than the book. In some ways, the title may be the best part of the novel. That’s partially a joke. I admit, it can be a horribly dry novel. As a lover of Classical Greek and Roman history and literature, you come across some pretty incredible stuff. And some pretty awful stuff. This novel is remarkable because even when it’s awful, it’s still pretty incredible.
Written as an autobiography, we have a passenger seat in a time machine to one of the most interesting periods of history, in my opinion. Admittedly, part of what makes this novel so good is that the topic is so good. Even a bad book on post-Julius Ceasar Rome is bound to have some excitement in it. For a casual reader, however, I have to say that the litany of murdered family members and senators can seem to be pretty interminable. The familial relationships too are almost completely impossible to keep straight; I’ve never seen a clear family tree and doubt that one could be made. Even to a casual student of history, like myself, I,Claudius can be a bit of a drag at times. Still, don’t give up! It’s worth the read.
There’s two ways to look at it, I think. You can either see what most people would see after reading a dozen pages of infinitely recombined names that are ultimately pointless to the story itself; this guy, Graves, doesn’t know how to write. Or, you can look at it the way I think you should; Graves has got Claudius’ personality right. Claudius the character is too smart for his own good, too knowledgeable about history, and too insistent on including every tiny detail. We have only a few fragments of the real man’s writings, so it’s impossible to compare against Graves’ novel, but we have to assume that he was similar to other historians of his time. If Claudius had ever written an autobiography, it truly would be filled to the brim with information he would have found fascinating, even though it’s not all that interesting to us. This is a testament to Graves’ writing, I believe. He captures the character perfectly.
Claudius is a perfect character though. His wordiness is probably his only fault as a narrator. Other than that, he is the best guide to the chaos of Roman history I could possibly imagine. On the one hand, he has inside knowledge of the inner workings of Rome that no one else would have had. He is incredibly observant, an excellent judge of character, and is able to put together puzzle pieces that create a picture of Rome we might never have assembled ourselves. On the other hand, he is regarded as a blathering idiot, which makes him two things. First, no one feels the need to censor themselves around him because they don’t think he’s capable of understanding. Second, no one is intimidated by him, and Claudius thus escapes the web of intrigues that inevitably leads to assassination for everyone else in the family. Sure, Claudius’ infirmities is a point of shame for the family, which means he is frequently not invited to large, public or semi-private events where he would make a fool of himself. But what we gain from his other attributes more than makes up for this lack. Claudius is the perfect fly-on-the-wall.
Some people might argue about his objectivity as a narrator, but I’m not concerned with that. Claudius admits he is writing for us, his most distant descendants, and has nothing to hide from us. He certainly doesn’t hide his flaws. Further, I think he would have been disgusted with the web of intrigues and censorship that so consumed his household, and I think he would have happily look for an outlet to be completely honest in. Finally, I think Graves wants us to be concerned with what Claudius is saying, not with the meta-question of his own biases. We know that they’re there, but this is just about as objective as it can possibly get, in my opinion.
Claudius is the perfect narrator, and he’s surrounded by a hell of a cast of characters. Caligula is portrayed perfectly as a narcissistic, perverted maniac (I can’t help but think of that kid king from Game of Thrones. I haven’t read the books or seen the show, just seen the memes. No spoilers please!) Augustus is a tired man, ready to give in to Livia, his wife, just a little more than he’s ready to give up the ghost. We know why Germanicus is so loved by Claudius. Even Urgulanilla, Claudius’ cow of a wife has a moment of humanity when she proclaims in her will that Claudius has been misjudged. The most interesting character though has got to be Livia, Claudius’ maternal grandmother (married to Marc Antony, Claudius’ maternal grandfather, before the action of the story, where she is married to Augustus.) She is devious, ruthless, cold, calculating, and above all, brilliant. In Claudius the God, the second novel of Claudius, he admits that although Livia was a monster and a murderer, her ability to administer the Roman Empire was unparalleled, and we know it never would be out done. Even the reader becomes intimidated by Livia.
This brings me to the first of my two favorite scenes. Late in the novel, Livia sits alone with Claudius, who is increasingly drunk, not long before the death of Tiberius and the ascension of Caligula. In a novel full of arguably dry facts, this scene is just dripping with drama. For the first time, perhaps the only time, the cruel Livia opens up completely to another person, Claudius, who also opens up for the first time. She states with a numb declaration that she will die soon and Tiberius will follow soon after. She knows Caligula is a monster who will ruin Rome, and she knows Claudius will take his place. Finally, she admits that her life has been full to the brim with sin. Livia knows that she will be taken to Hell in the afterlife. However, there is a way out. No sin she has committed has been any worse than those committed by the Roman gods, who are enjoying Olympus, rather than Hell. In a singular moment of emotional vulnerability, Livia tells Claudius that she is afraid of Hell, and begs him to deify her as a goddess when he takes the throne of the Empire. Claudius knows this is the chance he has been waiting for. He strikes a deal with Livia, agreeing to deify her if she tells him everything. Every plan, every plot, every murder, every assassination, every forced suicide. How she did it, and why, starting with Claudius’ beloved brother Germanicus. She agrees, and they both get what they want: assured comfort in the afterlife; Livia avoids her punishment, and Claudius can tell the true story of Rome. The power here is really unbelievable. We have Livia, the power behind the throne of Augustus, the first and greatest Roman Emperor, and his successor, her son Tiberius. She is the most powerful person in the most powerful Empire on Earth, and she is nearly in tears, striking a deal with a stuttering cripple who has brought shame on the family. That kind of scene doesn’t leave your head.
My second favorite scene is at the beginning of the novel, but chronologically takes place last. Claudius takes us through a prophecy given to him by a frightening oracle shortly before he takes the throne. He correctly interprets it, for the most part, and adds the final assertion of the sibyl: he must record what he sees, as a truthful, complete history that will be passed down to his descendants. Not his children, but those two thousand years in the future. Namely, us. Claudius is writing this book, from the beginning, for people he cannot imagine. He cannot even imagine how such a record would reach us, especially if it is so secret not even his children can know about it. But it makes it.
Obviously both scenes are entirely fictional, but they are crucial to the story and really tell us an underlying truth about Claudius that might not come out in a purely historical novel. Claudius really does want to tell the truth, the whole truth, without bias. He’s willing to look his brother’s murderer in the eye to get what he wants. In some ways, he’s as ruthless as his grandmother. He is making his legacy, one of pure history; exactly the legacy he’s always wanted. The final moments of the book are his sudden ascension to the throne, and we are told his most private, embarrassing thoughts. The only thing he wanted out of the Empire was to force people to read his books. Staring a life time of hardship and likely assassination in the face (which was his eventual fate,) he is able to admit that he just wanted recognition as a scholar.
I, Claudius is not a perfect novel, and the casual reader can find much to criticize it for, and rightfully so. But I believe there is a greater purpose to what Graves is doing with this book, and the gems hidden inside are worth digging for. I have a lot more to say about it, but I’m sleepy, and most of my review of Claudius the God will have to refer back to I, Claudius anyway, so I’m content with leaving this for now.
And I have no apologies if you complain about spoilers. You had two thousand years to get up to date on this crap. It’s not like the first time you saw The Usual Suspects or something.
This is the seventh book of Murakami’s I’ve read (I’m missing a couple smaller ones from my collection,) and it seems to naturally fit almost as a preThis is the seventh book of Murakami’s I’ve read (I’m missing a couple smaller ones from my collection,) and it seems to naturally fit almost as a prewriting exercise to Kafka on the Shore, which I believe to be his best. It is distinctly Murakami: an observant but somewhat lost male narrator, meaningless affairs, Western music (pop, classical, and jazz,) dissociation from the family and society at large, gender roles, the midnight phone call, parallel worlds of a mystical sort, a few cats, simple but beautiful women, cooking, and a dream-like quality to reality, all of which culminate in an unsolved puzzle that is distinctly metaphysical, but no less real as a result. I admit a personal bias in favor of his style, although a detractor could reasonably call him repetitious. All of his novels do seem to be different facets to a single gem, but it is a beautiful gem indeed.
The quasi-nameless narrator, referred to once as K, is a more interesting narrator than some others. He admits to a passion for literature and music, while many of the other narrators appear to merely use these two to fill an empty and apathetic life. While others (I’m thinking specifically of the narrator from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I admittedly haven’t read in a while and didn’t much care for,) spend a fair amount of time waiting around for the plot to happen, deep in their own thoughts, K takes a more active role. Yes, he does still spend a lot of time thinking and waiting around, but he is driven by a purpose that is quite believable. His love for Sumire feels natural and unforced. She is the blazing flame he wishes he could be, even though we know from page one that she will be consumed and he won’t. And her asexuality feels equally natural.
The sudden love she falls into with Miu somehow feels organic as well. I don’t know much about homosexual romances in literature, but this one rang true for me. The attraction that Sumire feels for Miu is described in sexual terms, but I get the sense that that is only because Sumire doesn’t know how else to put it. Sure, it is sexual, but it seems to go much deeper. We, the reader, learn about the strange event that tears Miu in two toward the end of the novel, not long after Sumire learns it herself, but I think she knew it from the beginning, in a way. Miu, the Miu of this world, is distinctly asexual, just as Sumire has been. The Miu of the other world is a sexual being, as Sumire has become, or at least desires to be. This makes them a natural metaphysical pair. Sumire parallels Miu in a way she senses but does not understand for a long time. I find it very unsurprising that her disappearance into the other world comes after her attempt to show her sexual side to the asexual side of Miu. Her wholeness has interacted in both ways, sexual and asexual, with one of Miu’s sides. Perhaps her journey was undertaken with the purpose to do the same to the other Miu. Perhaps by showing her wholeness to both split sides of Miu, she too can be made whole. There is a definitive yin and yang theme going on here. Murakami makes frequent use of light and darkness throughout the novel, which can only support this crazy idea of mine.
I admit a certain sense of frustration with Sputnik Sweetheart that I have felt with most of his novels: the metaphysical puzzle is really hard to put together. I think that idea I just proposed about Sumire being a whole version of Miu is a piece to the puzzle, but only one. This novel has quite a few stray pieces though, again very indicative of Murakami’s style. The final act of the novel seems to be out of place. There is an obvious parallel there: Sumire’s midnight phone calls have been replaced with one in the middle of the day from the woman he loves physically but not emotionally. The stressful importance of the phone call is the same. Murakami makes a big deal of describing that Carrot seems to be mentally in a totally different place. Where is he? Perhaps in this other world? After all, he only perks up after K tells a shortened version of his attempts to find Sumire. What is the significance of him stealing anything, much less multiple items of no value? There are clear parallels here, but I’m missing some. There are clear meanings here, but I’m missing more.
This review has been a fun little exercise. I feel like I’m putting some of the pieces together.
All in all, I find myself fond of Sputnik Sweetheart despite its repetitious themes. I would recommend this as a book to start with for those new to Murakami. It’s got all the themes there without being the length of heaviness of Wind-Up or 1Q84. It’s an easy read too. I finished it in a couple days without much effort, so it would be great for a short trip. The beach scenes made me feel like I was outside in the warm sun and blue water, so take it to the beach this summer!
Also, if anyone out there in internetworld reading this has your own thoughts on putting this puzzle together, tell me! Lord knows I need the help. ...more
**spoiler alert** The Sparrow made a huge impression on me when I read it five years ago or so, but I was very concerned when a sequel was released. U**spoiler alert** The Sparrow made a huge impression on me when I read it five years ago or so, but I was very concerned when a sequel was released. Usually sequels ruin what was good about the original, whether it’s novels or movies or video games or anything. I was not entirely correct with Children of God; it is a very different novel from The Sparrow, and my memories of The Sparrow are not at all tarnished by its sequel, but Children of God left me feeling disappointed.
The biggest issue with Children of God is that it is unfocused. The Sparrow was a relatively simple novel in its structure. There are two timelines: First, the discovery of and mission to Rakhat, and its disastrous end; Second, the journey of Emilio as he attempts to retell the story and make sense of it. Jumping between the two timelines is easy. Information revealed in one makes the other suddenly more powerful, without ruining suspense. Children of God, however, splits off into too many times and locations. The continuing journey of Emilio on Earth and later back to Rakhat, the survival of Sofia and birth of her son, the rise of Hlavin Kitheri, the fleeing of Supaari, and finally interviews between surviving characters, both human and alien, long after the events of the novel take place. It is difficult to keep track of who knows what when and how. Worse, dates are given at the beginning of each chapter relative to Earth’s year, which may seem to be a good idea because it gives us an objective timeline, but only confuses us further because we jump so quickly from one time to the next, and we can never tell just how long has passed since a previous passage concerning the same group of characters. We’re even given the Earth relative year and month while the crew is traveling on the asteroid to Rakhat, where Earth years and months pass at varying rates depending on their current speed. Why tell us what year it is on Earth? It could be a different year the next day, depending. Why not just tell us how long they’ve been on the spaceship for? Why tell us what year it is on Earth when Isaac runs away? Why not just say how long it happens after he was born? Ugh, I was so confused.
The characters are in some ways just as unfocused as the timeline. Let’s start with the less important characters. Emilio doesn’t leave for Rakhat until the book is almost half over, and suddenly we’re bombarded with new characters, Runa, Jana’ata, and human. Honestly, I stopped trying to keep track of the alien characters. Like clockwork, every twenty five pages or so, you’d meet another alien that suddenly becomes a main character, even though you still have to continue following all the original main characters. By the end I didn’t know who was Runa or who was Jana’ata, or who was with which group, or sometimes even why they disagreed. For a book about the lower class species rising to defeat their masters, it really is important to know who was of what species. But I didn’t know. And I’m not keeping a list like I do for all those Russian epics. That’s getting old.
But what about the main characters? Well, John Candotti returns, but you mostly forget about him. There are also three new Jesuits, two of whom are, in my mind, completely interchangeable despite their accents, and a third who is notable because of his native American last name, but still has a boring, lifeless personality. I have no idea who played what role, who represented what worldview, and why some seemed to occasionally burst out into passionate speeches only to suddenly return to their previous, boring state. Overall, the characters were boring. I just didn’t care about them. No one had a distinct personality or distinct philosophy. Even Emilio, when he gets captured and realizes that he’ll never see the woman he loves again, just sort of accepts it and sometimes says he’ll kill Carlo, his kidnapper, but usually just sort of mopes around. In The Sparrow, you came to care about the characters (with a few notable exceptions) because of their uniqueness. In Children of God, the characters are just a sort of light brown haze that you can’t see through, and don’t even particularly want to see through. Most notably, Sofia, so strongly characterized in The Sparrow, turns into a total weirdo by the end of Children of God. Sure, I get that she was totally mentally destroyed by grief and her obsession with the war. But Russell makes such a big deal out of her being a Jew. She teaches the Runa Hebrew and biblical stories, and her decisions are frequently worked through from a Jewish perspective. So why would a Jew, obviously intent on helping a downtrodden race rise up to gain freedom from their masters, be ultimately obsessed with committing genocide? We don’t see any slow progression of her abandoning her ways and coming to terms with the fact that her ends justify the means. We only see her as a freedom fighter one day, and a Hitler clone the next. Why? She clearly knows that not all the Jana’ata are evil. She never gives up hope to see Ha’anala, who she considers to be her daughter, almost more than she considers Isaac her son. So why the genocide?
The plot was unfocused. I get the main jist of it. Emilio starts to readjust to life on Earth, when he’s suddenly swept back to Rakhat. Sofia becomes the leader of a Runa resistance that eventually develops into a full fleged war of total domination over the Jana’ata. Isaac is the spiritual leader of a people who desire to peacefully coexist as equals, while his mother is the spiritual leader of a people who have become bloodthirsty. So why is there so much other stuff? Why does Russell make such a big deal out of having a black Pope? The uninteresting and unimportant details of Emilio’s life with a woman? A micro-asteroid striking and nearly destroying the spaceship? Sofia’s failed attempt at commandeering the other lander craft? Etc. These were not important to the plot or further characterization of our protagonists. They felt like filler for the first act.
Which leads me to my next point. Children of God felt rushed toward the end. For most of the second act, really. While we got a whole chapter on Emilio taking care of a guinea pig, we now get a page or two of the overturning of the established order on Rakhat. Politics pass in a sentence. Carlo almost dies and then disappears from the book. A third or fourth or fifth or whatever group of Jana’ata are introduced, are apparently important, and then we never actually hear from them till the very end. If they’re so important, why don’t we know what they’ve been doing this whole time? Emilio talks to Sofia for like a page. Then he delivers a baby he inexplicably loves so much it overcomes his previous hatred for his rapists, while being consumed with grief over the death of the mother he only knew for like a few hours. In a page, Isaac has suddenly discovered a 40 year long revelation of God’s existence in music, explains it to Emilio who explains it to the other, and then they leave. Back on Earth he literally meets the daughter he didn’t know he had, expresses almost no surprise, moves on to hold his grandson, and then… Curtain. The end. It’s like Lord of the Rings if Fellowship took us to Rivendell and everything else got crammed into a movie of exactly the same length. The frenetic pacing mixed with the many new characters who have personalities that aren’t distinguished anyway creates a feeling that you just want to get the book over with, rather than enjoy it.
I could keep going, but I think I’ve really made my point here. The Sparrow, despite its failings, was a good book because we truly cared about the people in it. The story was ultimately a simple one, and a character goes through a believable arc that never becomes trite, and leaves the reader with a lot of food for though. Children of God is just a bit of a rushed mess. It feels more like a rough draft for a should read this just to get it under your belt (and I don’t think it will destroy your memory of The Sparrow,) but otherwise you should skip it.
Here’s a sci-fi side note that’s sort of a minor gripe. How are the Runa conducting this war? Where did they get radios and topographical maps and transport ships from? What are they fighting with? It’s implied that Nico is dangerous because he has a gun and no one else does. Supaari and Hlavin fight with knives in a ritualistic duel. We don’t believe the Runa capable of industrial production. But cities lie in ruin, and at the end, the Runa have access to artillery! Did they steal it from the Jana’ata? How could they learn to use it? How could they have made more? If the Jana’ata had guns and the Runa didn’t, would the massive outnumbering have even mattered? Couldn’t a few well-placed artillery shells decimate the Runa forces before they even attacked? It’s implied that they even have tanks! There’s no way even a million unarmed Runa could fight against a small force with weapons like that. I know this isn’t a huge deal because this novel isn’t hard science fiction, but it just takes me out of the story. ...more