The book has its problems, but it was okay. It has a lot to live up to, with the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" tagline emblazoned across tThe book has its problems, but it was okay. It has a lot to live up to, with the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" tagline emblazoned across the top, and I think realizing that it's the first book of a trilogy helps to explain – if not wholly satisfy – some of the underwhelmingness of the story. Yes, the characters could be better developed, but we know we're going to get more of them.
Also, I'm not sure how much my own ignorance of New Canon Star Wars hurts my reading of this novel. To date, I've only read A New Dawn, and I'm entirely unfamiliar with the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons. I was glad to see Rae Sloane return, this time as an admiral, but her character seems to me still to be too hesitant and questioning of her own abilities – closer to Capt. Pallaeon than Grand Admiral Thrawn, if you will admit the comparison.
And of course, such comparisons are begging to be made. Although apparently closer in time to the Battle of Endor than Zahn's post-RotJ trilogy, the situation of Aftermath is very similar to the situation of Heir to the Empire: the Rebel Alliance has (or is trying to) become the New Republic, while Admiral Ackbar is still leading the military struggle against the remnants of the Empire, which itself is beset by internal bickering about who will be the new leader, even while a mysterious person of quality has risen to power and is pulling strings to solidify that power. The broad situational strokes are, necessarily, the same, and my thoughts inevitably kept turning toward the difference between how the two stories were handled.
In tone, the biggest difference is that the Thrawn stories gave us a wide-angle view of the galaxy throughout its story, not merely showing us what was going on in different places, but also how our favorite characters were faring in the wake (I almost wrote "aftermath") of their having killed the Emperor and his probable successor, Vader. Aftermath takes a different approach, with the majority of the action taking place on a single planet or immediately above it. While there's certainly a value into looking at local conflicts like this and the effects it has on people, I think the thing that Aftermath loses in this approach is the very space operatic feel that make the original Star Wars movies so grand.
At heart, I think Wendig (and the PTBs at Disney controlling story continuity) had to be conscious of this loss – and hence, the interludes. Ah, the interludes, the literary equivalent of Lucas' tacky post-exploding-Death-Star celebration montage in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi. They give us glimpses with no context of Things Happening Elsewhere, none of which appear to have any bearing whatsoever on the story at hand. Given that they don't move the story along even a bit, one has to wonder why they exist. The congenial response is that they are explicative vignettes to show how various people and planets are faring in a confusing and tumultuous galaxy after its government has collapsed; the cynic in me thinks that they're merely advertisements for future books. Tell me we're not going to get a book about Han Solo and Chewie liberating Kashyyyk... I mean, hell, I'd love to read that book – I want to read that book much more than I wanted to read Aftermath. But I don't want a commercial about it in this story. All of the interludes work basically as prologues to future potential stories, and as such they are interruptive to this story. Frankly, I'd recommend skipping them altogether.
There are plot points that could be picked apart, but all in all, getting past the stuff above, it's a workhorse story that gets us from point A to B, and sets us up for the next book in the series. Admittedly, I am curious to see how Norra and team (I suppose I think of her as the leader, now?) will fare in in the future, so I can't say with good conscience that the story was wholly uninteresting, even if there were a few too many "Oh my god, she/he is dead! Oh, wait, no she/he's not..." moments. (It's a surprise vs. surprisingness thing, for you CSL fans....) So even though I didn't particularly like Wendig's writing style — ZOMG STOP WITH THE PRESENT TENSE — or his willy-nilly use of punctuation, I suspect I'll read the follow-up stories.
Which puts me into a weird place, because until now I wasn't really sure about the New Canon stuff. I'm certainly not as excited about it as I was as a high schooler reading Zahn's trilogy for the first time, but it's growing on me. I'm just not sure whether that growth is symbiotic or parasitic, yet.......more
This is a fantastic short book on the purpose and value of criticism. I had read chapters from it previously, but this is my first read all the way thThis is a fantastic short book on the purpose and value of criticism. I had read chapters from it previously, but this is my first read all the way through. This read through is prompted by my preliminary work on developing my thesis for the MA program at Mythgard Institute.
Not only does Lewis make a strong case for looking at literary criticism from a different perspective — that of how readers read, as opposed to what they read — but it ends strongly, stating what I think is at least a similar sentiment to my own about what literature does, and something that I strongly suspect is a universal experience for what Lewis calls "literary readers," even if not all of them acknowledge it.
As I've done before, rather than trying to sum up my thoughts, I'm going to note passages that I enjoyed while reading this:
p. 91-92: "In characterising the two sorts of reading [good and bad] I have deliberately avoided the word 'entertainment'. Even when fortified by the adjective mere, it is too equivocal. If entertainment means light and playful pleasure, then I think it is exactly what we ought to get from some literary work…. If it means those things which 'grip' the reader of popular romance—suspense, excitement and so forth—then I would say that every book should be entertaining. A good book will be more; it must not be less."
p. 106: "Observation of how men read is a strong basis for judgements on what they read; but judgements on what they read is a flimsy, even a momentary, basis for judgements on their way of reading. For the accepted valuation of literary works varies with every change of fashion, but the distinction between attentive and inattentive, obedient and wilful, disinterested and egoistic, modes of reading is permanent; if ever valid, everywhere and always."
p. 120: "The question is about the criticism which pronounces on the merits of books; about evaluations, and devaluations. Such criticism was once held to be of use to authors. But that claim has on the whole been abandoned. It is now valued for its supposed use to readers…. For me it stands or falls by its power to multiply, safeguard, or prolong those moments when a good reader is reading well a good book and the value of literature thus exists in actu."
p. 130: "Are you and I especially obliged or especially qualified to discuss what, precisely, the good of literature consists in? To explain the value of any activity, still more to place it in a hierarchy of values, is not generally the work of the activity itself."
p. 132: "A work of literary art can be considered in two lights. It both means and is. It is both Logos (something said) and Poiema (something made). As Logos it tells a story, or expresses an emotion, or exhorts or pleads or describes or revokes or excites laughter. As Poiema, by its aural beauties and also by the balance and contrast and the unified multiplicity of its successive parts, it is an objet d'art, a thing shaped so as to give great satisfaction."
p. 140: "Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality…. But in reading literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see."...more
The story is as engaging as I remember it. Zahn deftly extrapolates the actions, concerns, relationships, and experiences of the familiar Star Wars chThe story is as engaging as I remember it. Zahn deftly extrapolates the actions, concerns, relationships, and experiences of the familiar Star Wars characters from the original trilogy, while giving them new situations – threats and otherwise – to adapt to, managing to fill out even more of their stories through, for example, a visit to Chewie's home planet and yet another return trip to Dagobah for Luke. That the primary protagonists seem to keep ending up together in the places where the main action seems to be occurring is not more or less providential than in the original movies.
However, Zahn's genius has always been the introduction of his new antagonists: most importantly the alien Imperial strategist, Grand Admiral Thrawn (for whom the trilogy has been post hoc named), and the hate-filled Emperor's Hand, Mara Jade. Expertly crafted characters in their own rights, both are given plausible backstories as to how, despite being marginalized by the Empire (and the Emperor himself), they yet remain loyal to it (and him) in ways that exceed the rote conditioning of the average officer and stormtrooper in the Imperial Navy.
Perhaps more subtly inspired, and something that I had not picked up on with previous reads, is the use of Capt. Pallaeon and Talon Karrde to explicate the more fascinating personalities of Thrawn and Jade, respectively. Zahn uses these two characters in much the same way that Tolkien uses the hobbit characters (mostly) in The Lord of the Rings – what Michael Drout has called the "epistemic regime." The reader wonders and learns alongside Pallaeon and Karrde about the motives and insights of Thrawn and Jade, respectively, and while it's not quite as expertly done as in Tolkien, the effect is much the same, with our seeing through the eyes of those who have less information.
The only chagrin I have with re-reading this is, of course, that the last time I read the book, I had not even seen the "new" movies, let alone learned that the Expanded Universe was no longer canonical in any way. I still enjoyed the story very much, but knowing that these aren't the events that "actually" happened post-Return is, as the kids say, booty. Given that the Thrawn trilogy was my own introduction to the EU, at a time when it was supposedly curated by Lucas Films, it's disappointing to know that this is not the direction which Disney, Abrams, et al, will be taking the new stories. That said, it is blessedly free of midi-chlorians. (For more thoughts on how I think the jettisoning of the EU from canon is a terrible idea, please listen to the 100th episode of my podcast, Kat & Curt's TV Re-View.)
Nonetheless, I still really enjoyed the story and have the second book in the series sitting here beside me waiting to be cracked as soon as I hit save on this review.......more
Although I'm not sure I can say that I love Lovecraft (cue The Format "I love Lovecraft..."), this volume is undoubtedly a masterful production in itsAlthough I'm not sure I can say that I love Lovecraft (cue The Format "I love Lovecraft..."), this volume is undoubtedly a masterful production in itself. A solid collection of its work, the annotations in it are insightful and enlightening. If I have any complaint, it's that I wish there were more – especially given the large format of the book, which was designed to accommodate sidenotes. There are too many pages with inches of whitespace on the side that could have been filled with additional references and explanations....more
It gets better as you read along, which is the preferred trajectory for a book, in my opinion: too often it's the other way around. The opening is touIt gets better as you read along, which is the preferred trajectory for a book, in my opinion: too often it's the other way around. The opening is tough, with forty to fifty pages (or more) of the main character sitting around, reading his father's journals and ruminating on them with his brother, etc. The first-person narration also becomes less stilted when the action begins....more
While there are some humorous moments — such the chapter "Of how Imbaun Spake of Death to the King" ending with Imbaun being led away, "And there arosWhile there are some humorous moments — such the chapter "Of how Imbaun Spake of Death to the King" ending with Imbaun being led away, "And there arose prophets in Aradec who spake not of death to Kings" (indeed, the procession of prophets who die itself is kind of funny) — they are not enough to offset the tediousness of the mock-serious scriptural tone that Dunsany adopts throughout the book. While I generally like irony and subtle humor, I could not shake the feeling the each chapter is a knowing half-wink by Dunsany asking, "See what I did there?" Yes, I see what was done, and while I don't deny the cleverness and insight behind the story (is it even a story? more like a collection of vignettes...), I am not a huge fan of stories that point out their own cleverness and insight.
A lot of people have praised Dunsany for his cleverness in coming up with his own cosmogony, something which (the claim is made) had not done before him but which has been repeated frequently afterwards by writers ranging from Tolkien to Terry Pratchett, and beyond. I think critics in general have not properly placed Dunsany's work here as a logical byproduct of the comparative religious studies taking place in the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th centuries. Books like The Golden Bough brought together strange gods and goddesses from different lands, and I suspect for people like Dunsany, many of these gods seemed silly and obviously invented. This is not to say that The Gods of Pegana is an imitation of such comparative studies, but that they appear around the same time seems significant. I would have to look further into it, however, to know if there is a more direct connection.
I also think there is a loose, but important, connection between Dunsany's idea of an invented cosmogony and the creation of angelologies and demonologies, particularly in the medieval and renaissance periods. These types of hierarchies drew from classical and biblical stories, but there were many which seem to have simply invented new angels and demons, or given new powers and authorities to old ones. Such works arguably link back even further to things like Ovid's "Metamorphoses."...more
William Morris discovered the most tedious way to tell a story, and he demonstrated his discovery in "A Tale of the House of the Wolfings." I find itWilliam Morris discovered the most tedious way to tell a story, and he demonstrated his discovery in "A Tale of the House of the Wolfings." I find it hard to believe that he was once offered the office of Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland, upon the death of Lord Tennyson, given how poor the meter and rhyme of his verse in this book is — perhaps the council which presented it to him did so in jest. I applaud Morris for turning it down on the pretense of political differences rather than merit.
That said, I still give this book 3 stars (perhaps beyond my better judgment), because if one can get past Morris's absurd archaicism and defective balladry, the story is actually fairly engaging. Perhaps this supports C.S. Lewis's argument in An Experiment in Criticism that some stories are universal, regardless of their form. ...more
I've read Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories" quite a few times now, but this is the first I've read this critical edition. The essay is always enjoyabI've read Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories" quite a few times now, but this is the first I've read this critical edition. The essay is always enjoyable, but of course I found even more value in the editorial commentary. The history of the different versions was well done, not nearly so dry as sometimes such descriptions tend to be.
I admit that I did not read through the two manuscript versions in detail, nor their commentary, which combined consists of about 1/3 of the book. Even so, I'm marking this one done, as for all practical purposes, I have read everything I intended to....more
Rating this a 3 primarily so as not to invoke Dave's ire. He's right that the tales are "turgid, tedious, and unconscionably self-indulgent." But thenRating this a 3 primarily so as not to invoke Dave's ire. He's right that the tales are "turgid, tedious, and unconscionably self-indulgent." But then, he also uses "belike" in a nonsensical way.
Where I differ from him is in trying to imagine what the reviews would be in a world that didn't contain Tolkien's other published works. First of all, I shudder to think of such a world. Secondly, we don't live in that world, so what's the point in rating a book from that subjunctive point of view? Such arguments are simply attempts to justify one's own peevishness.
The Book of Lost Tales is a solid 3. No, the tales are not great, and yes sometimes they are downright terrible. But the book does precisely what it's supposed to do: Provide early, unrefined versions of stories that NEVER got to a point where Tolkien himself was comfortable publishing them. It's for the Tolkien lovers who want to delve into that minutiae. There's no reason to criticize the book simply because you're not one of those people. ...more
I'm trying to get a fix on why like I didn't, you know, like this thing, this book too much. Everyone says its meg brag but it just felt maybe a littlI'm trying to get a fix on why like I didn't, you know, like this thing, this book too much. Everyone says its meg brag but it just felt maybe a little disconnected like the time when I went a whole day without checking facebook? And then when I checked nothing had really happened and nobody had messaged me and I was going all like "What nobody messaged me" and then my friends were all like "What we would've messaged you but you didn't message us" and everyone was wondering why I was going all mal over it...
When my ex-wife and I first started dating, she made me dinner one night using her grandmother's macaroni and cheese recipe. The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of flour; my ex-wife put in 3 cups. This book is kind of like that: It has the right ingredients, but not in the right proportions. I wanted to like it right from the beginning, I really did. But ultimately, it never quite rises above its own cleverness. "OMG people aren't paying attention to IMPORTANT things! The world is DOOMED and we're doing it to ourselves!" It's basically 300 pages of old-codgery-ness disguised in made-up young'un's speak.
Feed presents a world in which people are bombarded with advertisements and consumed with consumerism, while they ignore the various social, political and environmental situations going on around them. Part of the problem is that such a view does not extrapolate the current situation of social feeds in any meaningful, or in my opinion accurate, way. For goodness's sake, I can hardly look at Facebook, Twitter, Feedly or LinkedIn (or even Goodreads) without being reminded of the many — often conflicting — social, political and environmental situations that everyone else wants me to be concerned about. To be ignorant of them, I have to ignore my feeds.
Also, I'm not sure that the problem of ignorance about world problems is unique to technological advancement. When I went to high school in the early 90s, I certainly didn't have the constant social feeds available today, let alone the constant brainstream of the characters in Feed — yet I am fairly certain I was at least as ignorant of world events in my time as Titus is in the story. And I probably was better informed than most people throughout most of history who, lets face it, rarely give much of a crap about what's going on outside of their immediate social circle regardless of what level of technology they have.
Finally, there's some shock-value stereotypes that don't work for me. Trademarking Clouds™ and School™ is a hootenanny and gives a bit of the OMG THE CORPORATIONS ARE RAISING OUR KIDS AND CONTROLLING OUR AIR! freakout, until you realize that any corporation worth it's salt would register the trademarks instead of relying on the state-level common law protection of a TM. And of course Violet is homeschooled by an eccentric, jilted father rather than a "normal" dad in a stable relationship, because of course only weirdos want to homeschool their kids. The PR guy spinning the use of the word "shithead" seems bizarre even for a politician — and I write this on a day when a guy named Weiner is trying to explain away erotic indiscretions he made via social media so that he can be the mayor of the largest city in the country.
So, while this book has a few interesting moments and potential for some real insight, it ultimately fails to deliver. On to the next one....more
**spoiler alert** An interesting story. I'm intrigued by the repeated themes of creation and destruction —not to mention their combination in the idea**spoiler alert** An interesting story. I'm intrigued by the repeated themes of creation and destruction — not to mention their combination in the idea of flawed perfection, such as with Molly's portraits. David's attempt to destroy the mill when he realizes his clones are eliminating individuality dovetails nicely with Mark's destructive pranks later — which we learn are actually necessary to perpetuate humanity, as the clones do not have the imagination to see their own demise (another repeated theme, given that apparently only one extended family in the entire world has the foresight to establish a long-term, self-sustaining community to outlast the coming destruction). The end is clearly not an end, but another iteration in the cycle, although we might hope otherwise.
I particularly liked the way that Wilhelm wrote characters out of the story. Another writer might have been tempted to give a hint as to what happened to David or Molly and the others who leave. Except for the party that dies of radiation poisoning outside of Philly (a particularly disturbing image for me personally, as I was born in that great city!), we never get a clear idea about the fates of anyone who leaves the valley. The probability that they meet some doom lingers at the back of the mind throughout the story, yet there's always a glimmer of expectation that we might run across them at the end. Not knowing for sure is a more haunting proposition than revealing that they did indeed suffer some calamity, if only because there's the possibility that they did not.
Finally, Wilhelm does a great job at showing both the anxiety and inevitability (or inexorability) of parenthood. While we might like to think we have an influence on successive generations, ultimately they will do what they want themselves. The best we can do is to do the best we can do; rather than trying to force others, either older or younger, to do what we want, we should acknowledge our lack of power over the ever-slowly-changing zeitgeist and work to make things as good as we can. There's a huge potential for social commentary here — from the Baby Boomers retiring and its implication on job and retirement security for their kids and grandkids, to the ongoing developments in civil liberties...or violations thereof.
If I have a criticism of Wilhelm's book, it's that in some spots she seems to miss opportunities to make things a little clearer. In particular, many of Mark's movements seem a little too instantaneous, especially near the end, but even throughout the rest of the story there are places where physical or temporal jumps are made which aren't very clear. Also, in a few spots it would be nice to know how old some of the characters are — for the most part, it's not necessary, but having a better understanding of ages might also help to understand the relationships between some of the characters, especially since as we begin dealing with so many clones at various stages of development. All in all, though, these are relatively minor, but I feel it pulled me enough out of the story to make it not quite a 5-star rating: I'd give this 4.5 stars out of 5 if Goodreads allowed half-stars....more
What can I say? I both love and hate this book, which may be a form of doublethink. Even having read it before, I was still rooting for Winston SmithWhat can I say? I both love and hate this book, which may be a form of doublethink. Even having read it before, I was still rooting for Winston Smith to retain his humanity ... but alas. What struck me in particular this read-through was how blatantly the things that will happen to Winston are stated throughout the book. It's more than mere foreshadowing: From the beginning, we get actual description of the sorts of things that Winston ends up having to endure (see some of the earlier quotes listed below). The mantra that the result is concurrent with the act is thematically reinforced, which makes the story even more chilling with a second reading, at least for me. O'Brien's obviating statement upon first entering Winston's cell ("You knew this, Winston.... Don't deceive yourself. You did know it — you have always known it.") seems directed more at the reader than at the character: We knew what was going to happen, we read what was going to happen, we were told nothing else ever happens, yet we still hoped and deceived ourselves that it would not happen.
Without getting to much into modern politics, there's some interesting comparisons that can be made today. For example, privacy concerns about products like Google Glass, which are basically telescreens for your face — especially in light of Google's fight with the FBI over "National Security" letters, which are basically non-court-reviewed subpoenas that nobody's allowed to talk about and, thus, don't really exist.... Or the relatively new legal "mosaic theory" of surveillance where at some vaguely magical point a certain amount of public scrutiny by police violates 4th Amendment rights, but in a stunning display of Sorites Paradoxism, nobody (including SCOTUS) can really determine where that point is, and thus, it effectively doesn't exist.
On a personal note, I read it on my telesc— err, iPad. This is the first ebook where I've actually spent a bit of effort highlighting quotes and passages in that medium. Then, stupidly I removed the ebook from my iPad. Fortunately, when I synced it back, all my highlights were still in existence. Given that providential event and the effort I went through, I now present:
A List of Things I Highlighted in 1984
The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. (I'm thinking of Season 1, Episode 6 of Buffy, titled "The Pack," here...)
At those moments his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration, and Big Brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector, standing like a rock against the hordes of Asia, and Goldstein, in spite of his isolation, his helplessness and the doubt that hung about his very existence, seemed like some sinister enchanter, capable by the mere power of his voice of wrecking the structure of civilisation.
He hated her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so, because round her sweet supple waist, which seemed to ask you to encircle it with your arm, there was only the odious scarlet sash, aggressive symbol of chastity.
Winston woke up with the word 'Shakespeare' on his lips.
All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and re-inscribed exactly as often as was necessary.
It struck him as curious that you could create dead men but not living ones...
Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.
Rebellion meant a look in the eyes, an inflection of the voice; at the most, an occasional whispered word.
...in moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy, but always against one's own body.
But before death (nobody spoke of such things, yet everybody knew of them) there was the routine confession that had to be gone through: the grovelling on the floor and screaming for mercy, the crack of broken bones, the smashed teeth and bloody clots of hair. Why did you have to endure it, since it was always the same?
Some kinds of failure are better than other kinds, that's all.
[People incapable of understanding orthodoxy] could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane.
Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn't matter: only feelings matter.
They can make you say anything — anything — but they can't make you believe it.
They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious, even to yourself, remained impregnable.
At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little.
Nevertheless the dangers inherent in the machine are still there.
The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.
But no advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimeter nearer. From the point of view of the Low, no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of their masters.
Inequality was the price of civilisation.
The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors.
For the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one's own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes.
Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad.
"You don't think the Party would arrest an innocent man, do you?" (Parsons)
In the face of pain, there are no heroes...
It is not easy to become sane.
Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.
You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston. Posterity will never hear of you.
We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him.
What happens to you here is forever.
We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.
One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.
Reality is inside the skull.
Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain.
It was all contained in that first act. Nothing has happened that you did not foresee.
For the first time he perceived that if you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself.