Back in 2007 someone handed me a copy of the first of the Warhammer 40K Horus Heresy books. I expected very little from a war-game tie in (as much asBack in 2007 someone handed me a copy of the first of the Warhammer 40K Horus Heresy books. I expected very little from a war-game tie in (as much as I loved the setting). Instead, I was transported to another world through a fantastic story written by a top-tier author named Dan Abnett. I went on to devour everything he'd written in that universe, and after reading his Eisenhorn trilogy, it was clear to me that Abnett's most impressive skill was taking a one-note (albeit gorgeous) dark universe where "there is only war", and using it as a backdrop for deep and elegant stories that could take readers to places far beyond the battlefield.
I mention it because Pierce Brown's Red Rising trilogy clearly has a solid dose of Abnett's Warhammer universe in its DNA, but rather it's free from those limitations, having been built from the ground up for drama and speed. It also adds elements from the The Hunger Games, and epic roman history (like Spartacus, Rome, 300, and I, Claudius) to create something truly compelling and unique.
The first book (Red Rising) was a tremendous read, and if it had any major flaws it was that the plot was hampered a bit by it's Hunger Games style conceit. Still, Brown extracted every bit of value out of it he could. Now, as the hero enters into the wider world of this engrossing universe that we can begin to see the real complexities and compromises that Darrow must make for the sake of a revolution.
It becomes story that's full of amazing combat and engrossing political subterfuge, as Darrow must balance his position as a Gold against and the secret truth of his origin as a Red. There's also some solid emotional punches that had me tearing up while reading a book for the first time in as long as I can remember. ("Dear publisher: I believe your book may be broken as some of the pages became blurry as I read them.")
Along with all of that the plotting is fabulous. There are elegant revelations, surprising twists, and even a few "obvious" moments that still pay off because of Brown's truly fantastic command of character.
Golden Son isn't for everyone: it's got graphic violence and hardcore military sci-fi battles that I'm guessing will be too much for many folks. It also has a strong revolutionary point of view that will probably rankle anyone who's looking to get their belief system stroked. (Personally, I enjoy debating my beliefs with a good protagonist.)
All that said, there's a rare few books that I can give my whole-hearted 5-star recommendation, especially when the series isn't yet complete, but Golden Son is definitely worth all 5 stars in my book. I can't wait for the big finish next year....more
Back in April of this year (2014) I was at the Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon watching one short film after short film, when the meta-ploBack in April of this year (2014) I was at the Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon watching one short film after short film, when the meta-plot of a "Lovecraft" style story was revealed to me in a flash like a glimpse of a page in the Necronomicon. Like all revealed wisdom, at first it came with a rush of power, then a sense of foreboding as I quickly realized the price I would pay: no longer would I be able to enjoy these tales of cosmic horror with the same innocence and amusement that I have since childhood.
It's pretty clear that Jeff VanderMeer has had at least some the same insights, since Authority follows those points very clearly.
Adhering to the Lovecraftian meta-plot to the degree this book does make it, in parts at least, fairly predictable. But there's also something fascinating about watching an author working entirely inside a well-defined box. Instead of struggling to escape, VanderMeer seems to be attempting to prove that there is still a modern tale worth telling inside of that rigid structure, even if you already know (mostly) how it's going to turn out.
As the middle book in the series, it does suffer from some of the usual issues that middle books do: a lot of the work seems to be in service of creating an ending that will drive the reader toward the final book in the trilogy. But there's some lovely turns in terms of character and narrative that make the book worth the time and effort it takes to get there.
The characters remain the same compelling cast of broken toys that usually populate VanderMeer's books. Their inevitable breakdown reminds me of the ways that electronic gadgets do: a slow degradation of the wiring that lets them slip gracefully, terrifyingly, and sometimes amusingly, from useful tool to fascinating anomaly as they struggle to fulfill the original task they were designed for, and fail more often than not. By the time we meet these damaged heroes most of them are already too broken to be able to complete the work they were created for, and we join them in the horror of discovering just how wrong they've gone.
VenderMeer's books always have an emotional distance to them, and no one really seems that concerned with anyone's fate but their own. That can get a bit wearying at times, and occasionally it pulls me out of the story, making me feel like I'm in a Stoppard play.
But if you can take the occasional shiver in the scenery as the story bumps into the fourth wall from time to time, you'll find Authority and exciting and compelling read....more
I can't say for sure when it was that I've last read a William Gibson novel. I have a vague recollection of starting Idoru back in early 2000's but II can't say for sure when it was that I've last read a William Gibson novel. I have a vague recollection of starting Idoru back in early 2000's but I couldn't tell you for sure.
That's saying a lot considering the life-changing impact that Neuromancer had on me and my writing since I first read it many years ago.
But then, a friend of mine bought me this book for my birthday, and told me that Gibson was back to form. Reading this book and discovering that that I agreed with him has been a very nice present indeed.
One thing that's clearly changed since the days of the Sprawl, is that cyberpunk is no longer an genuine genre because the world *is* cyberpunk these days. Powerful neo-governmental corporations, fantastic devices in our pockets, cyber war: it's all here, with the possible exception of body-mods, and virtual reality (which I'm sure are on the way).
Gibson gets the modern landscape (which was a little more comprehensible back in '06), and Spook Country strikes me as a particularly adept investigation of just how deep the rabbit hole goes in our modern matrix of data, tech, and money. His vision is expertly told, with the author's exceptional ability to wield language and character is in full effect. Phrases are turned and similes crafted with the precision of a Cupertino iPhone designer.
The only place the book really fell down for me was in the plot; despite plenty of building mystery and intrigue along the way, the ending was decidedly underwhelming.
Despite some brilliant character conflicts—including an ex-rock star that's being used as a pawn in competing conspiracies—their journey seemed to lack genuine impact. I think that's because as the conspiracies were revealed I felt that stakes never seemed to be all that high, Unfortunately the finale was more about a denial of service attack than the something on the level of the Sony hack. I suppose that's more realistic, but it was a bit disappointing, nonetheless.
All that said, I'm interested enough in discovering where Gibson will take these characters next, and I'll be reading the sequel. And that is, I think, ultimately the best recommendation any reader can give to a story....more
Lexicon is a great book. That doesn't make it perfect, but it gets five stars from me.
It's a big-screen story in a lot of ways, with a lot of the set-Lexicon is a great book. That doesn't make it perfect, but it gets five stars from me.
It's a big-screen story in a lot of ways, with a lot of the set-pieces, stunning plot-twists and big reveals that are so common in film and television. But the nature of novels means that the author can broadcast a mental x-ray directly from their character's heads into the reader. That means some tricks incredibly difficult to pull off in prose because they rely on keeping things secret until just the right moment. But somehow Max Barry manages to execute exactly those kind of surprising twists and turns multiple times on a number of different levels while keeping his characters feeling authentic and engaging along the way.
Lexicon weaves its linguistic conspiracy back through history t0 create a plot with elements reaching back thousands of years. It's a neat trick, and when it doesn't feel forced it's almost as if you're really walking around inside the book's alternate reality rather than just being a passenger riding through a sideshow in another world.
But it's the fact that this is a story about weaponized language that makes everything in Lexicon tick. It challenges us to accept that that we don't just hear words, we consume them, process them, and build (and control) our true selves through them.
It posits that our "self" is constructed from and by our perception of language, and that it can be the source of our triumph and our downfall, both as individuals and as a species.
It's a thrilling conceit, although it never gets quite meta enough for my taste. Still, most of the time it works, despite some gigantic coincidences (that could have been easily revealed as fait accompli), along with some fuzziness about the motivations of some of the characters.
Those quibbles aside, Lexicon is a book that does some amazing things and tells a thrilling story at a breakneck pace. In parts it filled me with the same excitement that I feel when I'm watching a compelling television series like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.
If you'e looking for something simultaneously smart and escapist, Lexicon is a great story to spend some time with....more
There's a lot to love in this book. Actually, there's way too much.
This is a book so packed with big ideas and that moves at a such a breakneck paceThere's a lot to love in this book. Actually, there's way too much.
This is a book so packed with big ideas and that moves at a such a breakneck pace that Huw, the main character (a hapless hero that reminds me nothing so much as a latter day Heinlein hero in the "Friday" mold), seems to have been fired straight from the barrel of some kind of narrative cannon and rips through breathless escapade to the next at a rate that's often disconcerting when it isn't confusing or annoying.
Meanwhile, the actual character arc trails just slightly behind our protagonist, just about managing to catch up by the story's end.
The world is interesting, but it all ends up feeling like a three day excursion to Paris: you're definitely in the city and you've seen the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but somehow after you've left it doesn't feel like you've really been there.
Nothing in the story ever got room it needs to breathe, and the ending manages to unearned when it actually isn't. It's a neat trick, but not one I'd ever like to use myself.
It's never a bad book, and even though it's exploding with good ideas, it ends up feeling a bit disappointing the whole way through, even though what's inside is exactly what's advertised on the cover....more