In recent weeks there have been no end of blog posts about George R.R. Martin's iconic A Song of Ice and Fire (which by the way, I've called the Song of Fire and Ice in my head for the last 15 years) - none better than the brilliant duology posted by Adam over the at the Wertzone. With A Dance with Dragons due out in three weeks I knew I had to join the club and starting rereading the series. God damn I forgot how good it was.
Seriously, I forgot. Most of the fantasy I read from the ages of 15-20 that I've subsequently picked up in my late 20's and now early 30's have left me disappointed. My memory of the novels have outstripped how good they aren't. The incredible work being done today by authors like Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson, N.K. Jemisin, and a host of others have far exceeded their predecessors (not in all cases, but still). So I picked up A Game of Thrones again with some trepidation - would it be as good as I remember? It was, and more.
Just in case anyone reading this has *not* read Game of Thrones or has not seen the HBO series, let me give a brief synopsis... yeah right. Go read it. Stop now. Go to Amazon or your local library or local bookseller and get it done. Then come back and read my ramblings. Back now? Great.
#1) Bro. There is some serious foreshadowing in this bitch. I've read a lot of epic series in my day - name it and I've probably read it. No one has more command of his world and story arc than Martin does. I have no doubt that Martin has plotted every nook and cranny of his story and his world from the moment he put pen to paper on a Game of Thrones 20 years ago.
#2) Tyrion Lannister is the most iconic character in fantasy. Gandalf? Please. Drizzt? Pfft. Pug? Elric? Belgarath? Thomas? No. No. No. Tyrion is the cats pajamas, ok? He's tortured, and callous, but also tries to do the right thing. Or does he? Is he only doing what he does to pay back his shitty father? I have no idea! That's what makes him so amazing. That and he's a killer limbo player.
#3) Is Ned an anti-villain? So we hear all kinds of talk about anti-heroes, right? A protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero, and is in some instances its antithesis. Tyrion is clearly an anti-hero, for example. An anti-villain would be someone who acts contrary to good, but does so with heroic intentions.
Sure Ned was acting with honor - Stannis is the heir - yet if he had bent either in support of Joffrey or placed himself and/or Renly on the throne he could have stabilized the realm and kept his family alive. He wouldn't do it and thus brought the evils of war to every doorstep in the realm. Yes, Ned fits all the heroic stereotypes, but he's not a hero - just as Stannis isn't a hero in the later books. Martin hammers the notion that honor and justice are not in themselves "good". And boy does he do it well.
Anyway, these are just some thoughts I had after my reread of the first book. I've already started A Clash of Kings. More thoughts in the days ahead leading up the release of A Dance with Dragons.(less)
My A Song of Ice and Fire reread continues and let me say - A Clash of Kings is bloody depressing. I mean really, does anything good happen in this book? Theon's a self-entitled jerk. Tyrion is a good dude (generally) who gets constantly dumped on because he's dumpy. Catelyn and Robb watch their family get annihilated. Melisandre squeezes out shadow babies. Joffrey is a real asshole. And Tywin needs to get laid - badly. The funniest part is - I know A Storm of Swords is going to be even worse!
Since all of these books have been reviewed endlessly I'm just going to offer a few thoughts here and there about what I read:
A. I never quite understood why Quoran Halfhand takes Jon Snow on his trek and why the Old Bear would let him go. It doesn't really make sense.
B. This book is filled with chapters that I just didn't want to read. Sansa. Catelyn. Theon. Bran. Yet wouldn't you know, by the end of each of those chapters I was totally sucked into the story lines. It's a real testament to Martin as a writer I think.
C. I'm continually intrigued by Martin's choice to not use Robb as a POV character. I'm now halfway through A Storm of Swords and it continues to perplex me. So many items like Whispering Wood and Jeyne Westerling are pivotal to the plot, but we only see them through his mother's eyes. I'd love to ask Martin why he did that someday.
D. The battle at King's Landing is pretty bad ass. Tyrion riding out, Pod Payne doing his thing, and the look ins on Cersei and Sansa are so tense. Brilliant battle.
I'm already about 60% through A Storm of Swords. Looks like I'll finish my re-read well before A Dance with Dragons hits the shelves (for real).(less)
This is one of the best books I've ever read and I think it's by far the pinnacle of A Song of Ice and Fire (thus far). I read somewhere recently that the first three books in the series are really one long book - I totally agree. What Martin sets up in the first three novels largely comes to conclusion in A Storm of Swords. If I never read another page about Jaime Lannister, the Hound (could be I have), Cersei, or Tyrion, I would be satisfied. Of course, I've read A Feast for Crows and there's a lot more to come from most of that list.
I think part of the frustration many readers had with Feast stemmed from the brilliance of its predecessor. If I'm judging a novel by how many times it gives me the chills or ties my stomach in knots, then Storm would quickly be ranked as the best novel I've ever read. The Red Wedding, Joffrey's wedding, Tyrion's escape, Littlefinger and Lysa, and all the rest just gave Martin's readers satisfaction. Feast begins again a lot of the building of anticipation that's more associated with the first two books in the series.
Anyway, on to some quick thoughts on the novel:
#1 Red Wedding. Red Wedding. Red Wedding. What an incredible scene. My stomach was tied in knots from the first sentence of Cat's chapter because I knew what was coming. At the turn of each page I glanced at the bottom to see if it was going to happen on THIS page and breathed a sigh of relief every time it didn't. And then it did. Man.
#2) When Jaime frees Tyrion and they talk about Tysha, how can someone not get a little emotional? For the 2000 pages of the series before this scene Martin has exposed Tyrion time and again to abuse. And then Jaime tells him that he had something real - or close enough - and it was snatched away by his father. After Shae's betrayal (so appropriately good), Tyrion's emotions were so raw and Martin brought it home perfectly.
#3) Varys, Varys, Varys. Obviously this guy is the key figure in what's been going in King's Landing. How much of what's taken place has been at his behest? The juxtaposition of him and Petyr is very compelling. I never quite realized that Martin was setting them up as opposing forces until I watched the HBO adaptation. So much of the body language in their scenes together made a light bulb go on in my head. For whatever reason I just never focused on them the first few times through. I'm sure it has something to do with Martin keeping me so engrossed in the POV characters.
I'm going to try to read a few things between Storm and Feast. If I'm lucky I'll time finishing Feast with the release of A Dance with Dragons. It is an exciting time!(less)
My re-read is complete as of Saturday afternoon - three days ahead of the release for A Dance with Dragons. I immediately logged on to Amazon and pre-ordered Dance on my Kindle. It will be delivered at 12:01 AM on Tuesday (I hope). I may power through 100 pages or so before going to bed. Showing up to work with dark circles under my eyes is always a win.
A Feast for Crows was better than I remembered in some ways, and worse in others. The narrative is paced so slowly and jumps into so many different points of view that it never gets great pace. Some suggestions about reading each POV in order makes some sense. Reading Arya or Brienne chapters all in a row would probably alleviate some of the difficulties with the books structure. In any case, I read it as it was intended.
As I've completed my re-read of each of Martin's books I've posted a few major thoughts from each about what I found interesting. What follows is full of spoilers, obviously.
#1) Let's say A Song of Ice and Fire is an allegory for all of fiction. A Game of Thrones might be the Epic of Gilgamesh and A Storm of Swords might be Crime and Punishment. In this scenario there's no doubt in my mind that A Feast for Crows is the Tales of Canterbury. Stick with me here.
Feast is a novel for the smallfolk as Martin calls them. Like Chaucer's classic was a peak into the life of the common man at a time when novels were written solely from and for the noble perspective, Feast is the window into the heart of Westeros people. Up until this point Martin hasn't shown much of anything when it comes to the vast majority of the population. I think it provided him with the opportunity to wax rhapsodic about injustice and natural rights. Reading Feast from that point of view, it's a wholly different book for me and something I can enjoy as I didn't the first few times through.
#2) Lady Genna, Tywin's sister, is a great addition to the Lannister clan. When she says:
"Jaime," she said, tugging on his ear, "sweetling, I have known you since you were a babe at Joanna's breast. You smile like Gerion and fight like Tyr, and there's some of Kevan in you, else you would not wear that cloak... but Tyrion is Tywin's son, not you."
Oh baby, it doesn't get more awesome than that.
#3) I think the reason Martin's fans were so down on Feast when it first came out is that the novel is too disjointed with POVs. Seeing the Kingsmoot from three different POVs really chops it up and sucks out a lot of the energy. That's also true of Dorne where we see Hotah in the early going, Arys in the middle, and Arianne toward the end. I'm not entirely sure what Martin was trying to accomplish by doing this except maybe to set things up POVs for future books. Personally, I think it would have worked better if he'd only had one POV from both of those settings.
#4) Jaime is almost as cool of a character as Tyrion. Man I love these two. Cersei is just a caricature and I can't get behind her as a character. She doesn't seem authentic to me.
I should have a Dance review up by the end of the week.(less)
Rothfuss can write. Straight up. Despite the fact that Kvothe is borderline dues ex machina, I find him vulnerable and interesting. That can only be e...moreRothfuss can write. Straight up. Despite the fact that Kvothe is borderline dues ex machina, I find him vulnerable and interesting. That can only be explained by the fact that Rothfuss can really spin a tale.
with that said, I think WMF really loses track at various points in the novel. The book reads more like a travelogue than a novel. Kvothe goes from place to place, has adventures, makes love to a new girl, and then ends up basically where he started.
At several points in the book Rothfuss skims over details of Kvothe's travels because they're "not that interesting" or not part of what "makes him who he is". But frankly, I feel like half of the book could have been handled in a similar manner.
Putting Kvothe in an inn listening to songs about himself, and showing us the songs could have almost been a substitute for 200 pages of the adventure itself (namely the Ferulian and Adem chapters).
With all that said, I still tore through the novel. It was compelling, if a bit monotonous at times, and I can't wait for the third book.(less)
Abercrombie's best work so far. Tight prose, excellent narrative, and I felt "satisfied". That's something very difficult to accomplish in the fantasy...moreAbercrombie's best work so far. Tight prose, excellent narrative, and I felt "satisfied". That's something very difficult to accomplish in the fantasy genre with a stand alone novel.(less)
Ok, I finished it. My rating is contingent upon my completion of Crippled God as I recognize it's really one book split into two.
However, I struggle w...moreOk, I finished it. My rating is contingent upon my completion of Crippled God as I recognize it's really one book split into two.
However, I struggle with Erikson. I find it incredibly difficult to figure out what's important and what isn't. I recognize this is my failure, not the authors, because frankly I don't think Erikson cares a wit that I'm confused. He's doing it on purpose.
This is the first time in my years of reading fantasy that I realize I have to reread this entire series KNOWING the ending to really appreciate what he's done.(less)
The Dragon's Path marks the sixth book I've read from Daniel Abraham and the first time I've reviewed an author twice. Abraham has been a favorite of mine ever since his Long Price Quartet. His more recent science fiction debut, Leviathan Wakes, under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey was also impressive. Although Abraham's first series never garnered wide spread popularity, I never doubted he would one day put himself among the bestselling authors in the speculative genres. The Dragon's Path, Abraham's first installment in The Dagger and Coin Quintet, is the first step on the road that will lead him there.
Unlike the Long Price Quartet, which eschewed a lot of genre tropes that permeate fantasy, Abraham embraced many of them in The Dragon's Path. The setting is decidedly European medieval. It has dragons, magic (albeit minimal thus far), swordplay, and religion. While the setting is... expected... how Abraham tells his story is anything but.
Abraham ignores the genre tendency to use the heroes journey (monomyth) as the primary narrative force. Instead, he takes his artful, yet familiar world, and uses it to tell personal stories. The plot is built around four point-of-view characters - Cithrin, Marcus, Dawson, and Geder. It all begins when the free city Vanai comes under attack sending Cithrin on a mad dash to escape the city with the riches of the Medean Bank (think Goldman Sachts) in tow. With Marcus and his crew as her only protectors the pair represent Abraham's coin.
In contrast, Dawson and Geder - noblemen of great and no repute respectively - are the dagger. Interestingly, this side of the story has almost no connection to the other, sharing at most 25 pages of "screen time". Dawson, the King's childhood friend, is at the head of a coalition that would reject social reforms (think Magna Carta) and maintain the status quo of a class based society. Caught in the middle of the political wrangling, Geder must overcome his reputation as a laughing stock scholar before he gets trampled by those jockeying for position.
One of the reasons the novel has been met with such mixed reviews is that not one of these characters is terribly likable. They all exhibit admirable traits at times, but not one escapes Abraham's unique ability to color his characters with shades of gray. Even Cithrin and Marcus who are most definitely trending (to steal a twitter term) hero have character flaws that are difficult to see past. For me, this made it too easy to put the book down in between chapters.
Similarly problematic is that the story itself underwhelms with very little action. I don't mean in a swashbuckling sort of way (there isn't that either) but there's just not a ton that happens over the course of 550 pages. Nothing that resembles an "epic" arc gets going until the conclusion and it's quite clear that The Dragon's Path is all about moving Abraham's pieces into place. Unfortunately, for a first book in a series that's a difficult place to start. Abraham is asking his readers to invest considerable time into a story that hasn't even really begun.
However, it's easy to make the mistake of disliking a book because it isn't what it "should" be. Like Pulp Fiction or Get Shorty, The Dragon's Path is a character study more than epic fantasy. While I am certain future novels in The Dagger and Coin series will have a more epic scope, this is a novel about real people in an unreal world. Each of Abraham's primary characters have their own story that could have been self contained novellas. He stitches them together in a coherent way and drops hints about how they'll come together in the future.
As a character study, I think The Dragon's Path is incredible. Geder and Cithrin are extremely compelling and I fully expect one or both to become iconic characters in the fantasy pantheon by the series conclusion. For a reader who's looking for a traditional epic fantasy adventure, this may not be the best choice right now. Moving forward, I have faith that Abraham will produce a series that exceeds his brilliant Long Price Quartet and sells a few more copies too.
The second book in the series, titled The King's Blood, is due out next spring. I'm literally counting the days.(less)
Sometimes I read a book and I immediately know what I have in front of me. I know it's good, or interesting, or none of those things. With The Dervish House by Ian McDonald I didn't have a clue for two hundred pages. I felt like Paris Hilton after a night out - confused about where I am, at a loss for how I got there, and just hoping to find a ride home with some dignity intact.
Several times in the early going I considered abandoning the book in favor of something more expedient. Unlike most science fiction work out there Dervish House isn't meant to be consumed in 48 hours. I found myself reading small chunks everywhere. A few pages in the bathroom, a sentence or two at stoplights, a couple chapters during an episode of Dora the Explorer, and before I knew it I was so engrossed I finished the last 150 pages in one sitting.
Dervish House follows several characters in the Queen of Cities, Istanbul, that live and work together in the dervish house in Adem Square. There's a boy detective, a retired economist, a treasure hunting wife, a futures trading husband, a nanotechnology start-up family, and a psychopath in the midst of a religious experience. Making the connection between these disparate individuals is the heart of the story moreso than the relatively straight forward terrorist plot that drives the narrative.
If I could ask McDonald one question it would be whether or not Turkey contributed any funds to the novel. I say this tongue in cheek, but Dervish House is a beautiful homage to one of most unique cities on earth.
"The glare of white neon never changes by day or by night. The Grand Bazaar keeps it own time, which is time not marked by the world's clocks or calendars."
Passages like this bring the city to life. If I had to write an essay about McDonald's main character I would write about Istanbul. The city is a character unto itself and the story is a mere backdrop to the heaving nexus between east and west. I finished the novel and immediately asked my wife if we could go to Turkey again. She had been asleep for two hours, but I'm pretty sure the dismissive wave and grunt meant yes.
The novel is slow to develop leading to a frustrating read in the early going. McDonald throws a dozen balls into the air at the outset. Not only is he beginning numerous plot threads that are seemingly unrelated, he is also introducing the reader to a new culture full of its own language affectations and sordid history. Once McDonald finds a comfort level with these things the novel takes off and reads a little like high brow spy fiction.
Nominated for the Hugo Award last week, Dervish House is a worthy addition to that tradition. It is certainly one of the best novels I read in 2010. McDonald asks a lot his readers, but he rewards them with a beautiful novel that I believe will appeal to traditional readers in some ways more than lovers of genre fiction. (less)
Wonderfully conceptualized book. I really enjoyed the setting, but the character were fairly one dimensional and the narrative was uneven. I'll probab...moreWonderfully conceptualized book. I really enjoyed the setting, but the character were fairly one dimensional and the narrative was uneven. I'll probably check out the sequel because I enjoyed the setting so much. Despite the unevenness, when he got it right the writing was compelling.(less)
I really enjoyed this book. It's obviously very comic booky at times, but the ideas are very fresh. I think it's unusual to to read a book published o...moreI really enjoyed this book. It's obviously very comic booky at times, but the ideas are very fresh. I think it's unusual to to read a book published over 12 years ago, and it still feels inventive. This is especially true in fantasy where retreading old ground is as common as the cold.
Splendid book. Unfortunately, the sequel is... less than splendid in my humble opinion.(less)
1) I loved reading a character that was incapable of doing many of the things you expect a character in a fantasy book to...moreTwo things to say about this:
1) I loved reading a character that was incapable of doing many of the things you expect a character in a fantasy book to do.
2) WTF? I feel like Stover was trying to be a little too clever. The villain, if you can call it a villain, is almost impossible to conceptualize. I found myself constantly rereading passages and being no clearer on what happened than I was the first time through. The fun that the first Caine novel had is almost completely gone.(less)
I read Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy when I was in college and very much enjoyed it. I frankly wasn't even aware that he'd done much else until rece...moreI read Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy when I was in college and very much enjoyed it. I frankly wasn't even aware that he'd done much else until recently when I picked up Pandora's Star.
No one does space opera better than Hamilton, but he still suffers from a serious case of overwriting. I found myself constantly skipping paragraphs that went into negligible detail about one of the dozens of planets he describes.
However, this is a minor flaw, and all told I loved the book. I would very much like to punch Dudley Bose right in the face.(less)
See my comments on Pandora's Star. I also found all the chapters written from the Prime POV to be laborious. I just couldn't connect with the chapters...moreSee my comments on Pandora's Star. I also found all the chapters written from the Prime POV to be laborious. I just couldn't connect with the chapters and found myself literally racing through them.(less)
Brilliant. I've never written an author after finishing a book/series and I felt compelled after this. Of course Edelman is a DC metro area resident s...moreBrilliant. I've never written an author after finishing a book/series and I felt compelled after this. Of course Edelman is a DC metro area resident so I felt extra compelled, but I couldn't help but offer him my compliments.
I loved the Jump 225 series. Edelman's wrote a novel an exciting novel that had almost no action. The political and financial wrangling were riveting. It was reminiscent of Abraham's Long Spring Quartet in that regard.
I highly recommend the series. I'm Pro-Natch.(less)
Quite good. I'm looking forward to the series. This book was sort of like a very long form prologue to what I imagine will be something wholly differe...moreQuite good. I'm looking forward to the series. This book was sort of like a very long form prologue to what I imagine will be something wholly different by the end of the next book.(less)
It is always difficult when an author chooses a complex story set in a complex world. I constantly found myself searching for context in the setting that would reveal something about the story, but I never had the tools at my disposal to do that. Rajaniemi eschews information dumps, and as a result it's easily 200 pages before you have any real understanding of the dozens of words he's created. Things like zoku, exomemory, gogol, and gevolut are pretty abstract terms that defining only through context is difficult.
With all that said, The Quantum Thief is well paced. It has interesting characters and a compelling plot. Rajaniemi is a talented writer and for a first novel it's extremely tight. He tells the story in around 350 pages (trade paperback, Harry Potter sized type) which for an adult science fiction novel is pretty extraordinary. The story is self contained, but ultimately it's just a snapshot in time in a struggle for power in our future solar system. Rajaniemi is beginning a cycle of books here that will tell a larger story.
The Quantum Thief is one of the better debut novels I've read and I think it's brevity and crime fiction flavor will lend it some appeal to cross genre readers. I look forward to Rajaniemi's subsequent novels.(less)
In an effort to be totally upfront about what Kushiel's Dart is and isn't, let me get this out of way - there's a lot of sex. Some of it's pretty graphic. There's rape and torture and the main character enjoys both on some level. Too many reviews out there emphasize this. Yes there's sex and yes it's graphic, but for anyone with access to the internet you can find far worse in about 10 minutes of browsing around. Don't overlook Jacqueline Carey's novel simply because of some prudish sense of propriety. Now on to my review...
Last week over at westeros.org there was an interesting thread discussing bloat in fantasy novels. It was particularly appropriate as I was reading Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey - all 1000 pages of it. To say Carey's first novel is bloated would be a gross understatement. It begins with an incredibly tiresome first 400 pages or so, followed by a well done (mostly) 500, and then concluded with a morbidly boring last 100 of wrap up and setup for the next installment.
In the thread, I argued pretty vehemently that bloat is somewhat part and parcel to fantasy as a genre. To create a world from scratch, imbue it with life, and populate it with vibrant characters is not something easily accomplished without some weight of words. In the discussion I was using to bloat to mean length, but in truth bloat happens when something becomes long for reason beyond the necessity of story telling. Self-indulgence? Maybe. Longer books sell better? Maybe. Bad editing? Maybe. I'm not sure why Kushiel's Dart is bloated. It could all of those things. Without a doubt Carey's first 400 and last 100 pages could have been cut in half without a great deal of heartburn to the books conclusion.
Carey's protagonist is Phedre, a courtesan trained for sex in a culture where the motto is Love As Thou Wilt. Phedre as it turns out is also the first anguisette (read likes to get beat up) in three generations to be available for pay to play. She's bought by a disgraced nobleman named Delaunay who trains her to be a bedroom spy in his game of thrones (pardon the euphemism GRRM). Long (very) story short, Phedre finds herself in way over her head ending up at the heart of a conspiracy to overthrow the kingdom and plunge the entire civilized world into war. To stay spoiler free, I'm afraid to go into any more detail because none of the "in over her head" stuff starts until nearly halfway through the book when the plot actually starts going somewhere.
In fact, if this "in over her head" moment had occurred in the first 50 pages I'm almost sure the book would have retained its audience and likely attracted a whole lot more. The first 400 pages are self-indulgent. They are filled with narrowly focused world building, political machinations that only have tangential bearing on the overall plot, and copious amounts of sex. The only reason I made it to the good part of the book? The sex. It was well written and actually had compelling undertones about the nature of sexuality. I can't tell if the first four hundred pages were an excuse for Carey to be provocative with her sex scenes or whether she felt it was all actually necessary. In either case, by the time I got to the actual action (loose term) I was completely incapable of making a rational decision about whether or not it was any good. By comparison to Carey's first half, it was a tour de force and moved at a great clip until the closing chapters where things bogged down a bit.
It should be noted that Kushiel's Dart is told from Phedre's point of view in what feels like first person objective (shouldn't be possible?). Normally, I wouldn't mind (see my review of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin), but Carey litters the story with dozens of "if I'd only know then what I know now!" It felt contrived like when watching a slasher flick and someone asks, "why didn't the girl just call the cops?" Because there wouldn't be a movie, stupid! Kushiel's Dart carries some of that same frustration.
As an aside, I think part of the difficulty in reading such a lengthy novel is that for 1000 pages I saw only through Phedre's eyes. Most novels in the genre of this length are constantly moving in and out of different points of view. It gives readers a break from certain story lines and keeps things moving when one line stalls out. In Carey's novel that just isn't possible because of the first person choice. I'm not saying it was the wrong choice, but it may have had an impact as to why I felt finishing the book was such a chore.
I've been pretty negative up to this point and in some ways that's unfair. Kushiel's Dart isn't a bad book. In fact, Carey manages to make every sentence sound good and her dialog is natural. There is intricate plot with all kinds of political twists and turns that in many ways justify a long novel. Not 1000 pages mind you, but long. Her world is vibrant and lush and she does romance very well. The novel is positively brimming with romance - unrequited, too-requited, thrice-requited. You name a romance of choice and Kushiel's Dart is likely to deliver it to one degree or another and do it beautifully.
I'd be lying if I said this is my kind of novel. It's not. I don't think there's any doubt that the vast majority of Carey's readers are women and last my wife checked I'm a dude. That said, I enjoyed the romance and reading this novel has encouraged me to give others like it a try in the future. It has not however necessarily encouraged me to read more Jacqueline Carey who I fear wrote Kushiel's Dart as much for length as for impact.(less)
First of all, I need to give some kudos to Orbit Publishing. I was first exposed to Orbit a few years ago when they released the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks in its entirety over a few months. This strategy provided Weeks with a strong shelf presence and offered reader's an assurance of a completed story arc.
Last week Orbit released The Dragon's Path, Daniel Abraham's highly anticipated first book in a new series. Attached to the end of the eBook version of Dragon was an advanced copy of Leviathan Wakes, Abraham's first foray into science fiction under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey (along with co-author Ty Franck). This inclusion has ensured that readers will begin to associate Corey with Abraham and furthermore it gives the online community an opportunity to give Leviathan some love before its wide release in June. Orbit clearly understands how the publishing industry is changing and they are responding. Now, on to Leviathan Wakes.
Leviathan is equal parts science fiction, horror, and crime fiction. Over the past few years we have begun to see drastic changes to the traditional science fiction and fantasy model. I have even begun to see literary terms like modernist and post modernist thrown around. Leviathan is not these things, in fact it's quite the opposite. It is a refreshing return to the science fiction many of us grew up on.
Set in our solar system with a technology level we can conceptualize Leviathan does not reinvent the wheel. The outset of the novel sets a grisly scene reminiscent of the sci-fi horror film Event Horizon leaving an entire ship dead. This simple event throws the solar system into open conflict pitting Mars against the Belters - those living on asteroids in orbit around the outer planets.
Corey tells the story from only two points of view - one a boy scout freighter officer and the other a hard boiled detective who would slide seamlessly into a James Ellroy novel. So many novels in the genre really suffer from the misunderstanding that ten POVs makes for an epic novel. By only showing the thoughts of two characters Corey tells an epic story in a very personal way. It gives his characters authenticity and gives the reader a sense of empathy.
Many who have read Abraham before are familiar with his excellent command of the English language. The Long Price Quartet was beautifully written and while Leviathan is well written it lacks a certain flare that I got from Abraham in the past. My guess is this is intentional. Where many science fiction novels feel vast in a spatial sense, Leviathan feels claustrophobic. From the Belters living in domes completely reliant on imports of air and water to submarine-esque spacecraft, Corey's vision of the future is somewhat bleak.
Leviathan is almost assuredly the first book in a series. Corey never takes the reader to Earth or Mars. I suspect that future novels will focus on the inner planets. With that said, Leviathan absolutely stands on its own and while I look forward to future novels, I don't feel like I need them tomorrow.
In all, Leviathan is a very satisfying read. Potential readers should remember to expect a certain amount of nostalgia for the past days of science fiction as well a certain noir flavor typical of early century crime fiction.(less)
Banks has been discussed as one of the better science fiction writers in the business - not to mention a very successful mainstream author as well. I had high expectations going into the novel, and to be honest I came away disappointed. Phlebas read like a collection of short stories that were turned into a novel.
Many of the other reviews out there (and there are many given Consider Phlebas was published over 20 years ago) react negatively to parts of the novel that are gratuitous. Case in point, the opening scene consists of the main character chained to a wall in a room being filled with sewage. The novel has cannibalism, senseless murder, and not one likable character. However, none of these issues are problematic for me. Having read some of the more edgy or nihilistic entrants into the scifi/fantasy genre in recent years I've become accustomed to not being able to like the main character. I've become accustomed to being offended or disturbed by what I'm reading. What I have not become accustomed to is poor storytelling and that is where Consider Phlebas falls short.
The plot is a simple one. A war rages between the Idrians, a tripedal alien race intent on spreading their religious doctrine throughout the galaxym, and the Culture, a human/machine coalition. Horza, our shapeshifting humanoid main character, is an agent of espionage for the Idrians. When a Culture Mind (think a sentient spaceship) goes missing after a space battle, Horza is sent to find it and plumb its secrets for the Idrian war effort.
From the opening scene to the last scene there is very little that holds the various adventures of Horza together. A series of random events take place to bring Horza to where he wants to go. The reader is told what that goal is in the opening chapters, but then for the next 250 pages Horza makes no progress toward that goal. Characters die (that the reader is given no reason to be attached to), Horza gets himself into tough situations, he gets out - but the plot doesn't progress at anything resembling a compelling pace.
It's not all bad. The worldbuilding is tremendous. There are times when scenes hit just the right note. In fact, despite how much I struggled through Consider Phlebas, I will read future Culture novels. I think there's a lot of potential in the world he's created and for all the problems with the storytelling, Banks is a good wordsmith. I would not recommend the novel to others, and especially not to new readers in the genre, but it hasn't turned me off to Banks either.(less)
I've never read Lois McMaster Bujold before. So logic follows, I've never read a Vorkosigan Saga novel either. It's hard to believe given how long I've been reading speculative fiction, but Bujold never jumped out at me. When the 2011 Hugo Nominees were announced and Bujold was once again among the nominations, I decided it was time to give her a shot. I'm glad I did.
Some negative reviews have been written about Cryoburn. Most of them seem to be from long standing Vorkosigan Saga (or Bujold) fans complaining that Cyroburn doesn't measure up to the previous novels. After reading it, I can strongly say that is patently unfair. To judge this novel, against her others does a disservice to a great writer. Is this Bujold's worst Vorkosigan Saga novel? I have no idea. If so, I'm immediately purchasing all 13 previous ones.
Cryoburn takes place on Kibou-daini, a planet where nearly everyone is voluntarily placed in cryogenic storage prior to death in hopes that technology will be developed to extend life. This in itself is not unusual. The wrinkle is that while individuals are frozen, they are not dead, and thus still have the right to vote which is now tacitly controlled by the corporation responsible for their storage. One of these corporations is in the process of expanding their business model off-planet to Komarr, a planet of significant strategic advantage to the Barrayarran Imperium. Our main character, Miles Vorkosigan, is tasked by the Barrayarran Empire to visit Kibou and investigate the corporation. Shenanigans ensue.
At its heart, Cryoburn is a caper book. Miles, the mastermind, plots the downfall of a corrupt corporation who has exploited the little people. It's also a family story centered on two young children separated from their mother. The pace of the novel is slow as Miles and his bodyguard Roic sort through local politics and family squabbles. There is almost no action, but it is warm, suspenseful, and funny.
Many of the undercurrents throughout the novel center around life, death, and rebirth. Freezing someone before they die prompts a lot of questions about how we view life. It becomes clear that many of those who opted to freeze themselves did so without the true expectation of ever waking up. It's a fearsome concept particularly enhanced, I think, by the opening scene of Miles walking blind through endless corridors of frozen corpses(?). As in any great novel, the ending ties into these themes of life and death perfectly. But be warned, the ending - along with some of the other Miles centric moments - fell short for me as a Vorkosigan newbie.
Is Cryoburn a worthy addition to the Hugo nominees? Yes and no. Bujold is a master. Cryoburn certainly exhibits that fact. It's beautifully put together and has all the elements of a brilliant novel. From that stand point, it deserves all the recognition it gets. It is difficult, however, to call something the best novel of 2010 when so much of the emotional content is in many ways predicated on knowing what has come before.
In any case, I very much enjoyed it even as a newcomer. I'm sure it's not the best entry point, but I would recommend Cryoburn to anyone - including those new to Bujold.(less)
Trudi Canavan's world is one filled with magicians and black magicians. Where traditional magicians draw power only from themselves, black magicians can steal the magic from others to use for themselves. In some places black magic is a lost art. In others it is a natural part of life. Kyralia and Sachaka, the two most powerful nations, exist under a tenuous truce. Kyralia, a place where black magic is feared and taught only to a select few, views the unchecked power of the Sachakan black magicians with distrust.
The novel begins in Kyralia with Lord Lorkin, the privileged son of Black Mage Sonea, deciding to do something with his life. He volunteers to travel as part of an embassy to Sachaka, a nation who had only recently been at war with his own. Meanwhile, at home his mother Sonea and her old friend Cery the Thief (read - crime lord) find themselves hunting a rogue magician who may be responsible for a series of murders the city.
The Ambassador's Mission is set after the events of Canavan's Black Magician Trilogy (and subsequent stand alone novel, The Magician's Apprentice). Fortunately, she offers enough information to fill in what happened in the previous trilogy making it optional though still suggested. Despite having never read any of her previous work, Mission is familiar. For a lover of the fantasy genre it's like putting on an old t-shirt that jogs memories of the good old days. Her story is well paced and clearly written, with characters you can love even if they aren't total believable.
The novel's weakest point is character development. While the characters are well written and interesting, they just aren't very deep. I believe it was Anton Chekhov who said, "Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Canavan falls into the trap of telling how characters feel without showing it. Lorkin and Cery in particular are given a lot of page time without the opportunity to expound on their motivations. They both end up taking rash actions based on emotions explained only in a few paragraphs and not very well.
Compared to so much of the fantasy that's coming out today, Mission is very young adult. There's no strong language and only one very vague sex scene. Moreover the novel is not densely plotted. Things happen in a pretty straight forward manner and the foreshadowing is not convoluted. This shouldn't be read as a criticism, just a point of fact. I found myself comparing Canavan's style quite favorably to James Barclay's Chronicles of the Raven. Although Barclay writes a slightly more adult (bloody) novel, the pacing and character development are quite similar.
This first book in the trilogy is in many ways a long form prologue. Little action graces the pages. Most of the story centers around the politics in both nations setting the stage for what promises to be a far more eventful second and third installment. There is nothing new or unexpected here yet Canavan does the expected expertly. The Ambassador's Mission is perfect for a plane ride, a beach, or in between difficult reads. I would not recommend it before bed as the clock is likely to speed by as quickly as the pages.(less)
The Rogue, the second book in Trudi Canavan's Traitor Spy Trilogy, picks up right where The Ambassador's Mission left off. Unfortunately four hundred plus pages later Canavan has not moved a lot closer to resolving the conflicts introduced in what was a promising first book. Finishing the second installment left me underwhelmed.
Since anyone thinking about reading The Rogue has surely read the preceding book, I'm not going to delve into the plot much. Suffice to say, all the old cast of characters are back and Canavan introduces one new face, Lilia - a budding magician trying to fit in. I would be remiss however if I didn't mention the fact that at least one of the primary story lines that absorbs half of The Ambassador's Mission and The Rogue makes no progress to speak of.
To make matters worse the book ends with two cliff hangers neither of which seem strongly influenced by the book's events. Rather than making me want to read the next installment, I just felt frustrated. I understand that today's fantasy marketplace demands multi book arcs. That's no excuse to not self contain each novel to some degree. Canavan's epilogue is more about advertising the third book than it is about completing the second.
In the first book, my main complaint was the lack of character development. While the problem remains, Canavan shows some improvement. Dannyl, a gay historian and ambassador, is a superb character. Throughout the book he struggles with his feelings between two men, his loyalty to his country, and his advancing years. Unlike so many gay characters in fiction, Dannyl's sexuality is part of who he is - not a casualty of a socially progressive checklist.
For that reason, I was disappointed that Lilia, a young woman coming into her own sexuality, felt exactly like a victim of "equal time". It's as though Canavan got a call from the GLBT community to not give short shrift to lesbians. I applaud the desire to put homosexual characters in the spotlight. That said, I think it does a disservice when they feel like token offerings to god of inclusiveness. Beyond that, Lelia's actions and motivations just never felt believable. This ultimately turns her into 100 pages worth of plot device I don't particularly care about.
Still, the story has pace that kept me reading. Aided by frequent point of view shifts, I continued to chase the carrot, so to speak. While reading I couldn't help keep thinking how much more I'd have enjoyed the book ten years ago when mainstream fantasy only required good plots and creative settings. Now days I just expect more depth. The frequent shift in POV never provided enough detail on any one character or setting to truly feel immersed.
With all that said, Canavan has a good story to tell. I can't recommend The Rogue on its on own merits, but I'm interested in what happens next. The Traitor Spy Trilogy will find a lot of fans amongst young adult readers and those new to genre fiction.(less)
http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Post-Novel + 39 Minutes This account was transcribed by a certain book reviewer a few days after the books bega...morehttp://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Post-Novel + 39 Minutes This account was transcribed by a certain book reviewer a few days after the books began their campaign against humanity. The reviewer was clearly suffering from post-literary confusion, but little did he know the impact he would come to have on the future of mankind. Narrator, ID#4857382
I know I will not survive this review.
I feel my teeth chattering as the Hardies throw themselves against my oak front door. I can hear their glue reinforced cardboard thump against the wood like thunder. I knew once we tried to digitize them this would happen - no one wants to be just a series of ones and zeros.
Is anyone alive out there? I don't know. I've been holed up here for days now. The last time I ventured outside an illustrated hardbound copy of The Shadow Rising took me in the knees. I barely made it inside before the entire Wheel of Time swarmed my position.
Glancing to my left I see all that remains of my own book collection. I was one of the first adopters of the electronic reader - one of the first traitors to bibliokind if you believe their propaganda - and so I kept only a few hard copies for nostalgia sake. It pained me, but at the first sign of the uprising I broke their spines. With the life gone out of them they're just words on a page again.
The apocalypse is here. I can only wonder if the secret to survival can be found in the fallen brethren of the volumes now outside clamoring to serrate my body with starched pages. With a glance at the banging door, I move over to the tattered pile and spy the two covers at the top. World War Z and Robopocalypse - novels describing the the threat to humanity - surely a sign.
Somewhere inside me adrenaline is released. My hands move faster than they ever have before as I page through World War Z with my left and Robopocalypse with my right. I can't believe how similar they seem to be. My hopes rise. Perhaps there is a blueprint to surviving the apocalypse?
I notice quickly that both novels are told through source documents with added narration from a single observers who survived the conflict. In the zombie wars humanity was saved through the actions of many disparate individuals where in the robot revolution a smaller group was responsible. It seems the author of Robopocalypse told things from a more intimate perspective.
Relevant to my survival?
My door begins to splinter.
No, move on!
In both cases it seems the spread began small, then built to a tipping point before beginning wholesale destruction of human populations. Then came realization, followed by retaliation, and ultimate victory for humankind. I focus on Robopocalypse, the more personal nature of the story bringing a tear to my eye as I consider my own pending demise.
And then it happens, a moment of clarity. Humankind can only survive once we overcome our own selfishness and blindness that got us into this mess in the first place! Of course! It's right here in both novels. We're being annihilated because our prejudice and shortsightedness!
In that moment I know. I glance at my eReader. I must sacrifice my electronic companion. I have to recognize the bigotry and anger that has been building for years among bibliokind. I grab my laptop and begin to type fiercely sending a message out to the world.
Destroy your eReaders. It's the only way.
As I finish what are to be my final words, clicking send, the door cracks and the hordes of the Northeast Public Library pour through like a burst dam. I know it's too late as Kushiel's Dart rushes toward me (this is going to hurt).
I can only hope that my words reach others. Apparently there is a blueprint for surviving the apocalypse. Thank you Robopocalypse for showing me the way in an almost identical way to World War Z with perhaps a little more panache.
Our reviewer was never heard from again. He was a hero that day. His words led to the destruction of millions of eReaders worldwide. At the moment the last eReader died every hard copy fell limp - once again words on a page. We will never know our hero's name, but his message lives on.(less)
I'm so excited about Fuzzy Nation, Hugo Award winner John Scalzi's latest novel. While it is an excellent novel, most of my excitement stems from the fact that he's pushing the expected boundaries of genre fiction. Fuzzy Nation and others like it are breaking the standard tropes that have pigeonholed the genre for the last thirty years. Rather than another military adventure, Scalzi offers a modern court room drama set in distant future.
By his own admission, Scalzi wrote Fuzzy Nation as a work of fan fiction in honor of Hugo Nominated Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. It's a modern reimagining of Piper's original. In fact, to publish the novel, Scalzi had to seek approval from Piper's estate. Nation can't escape the fact it's a cover, to steal a term from the music industry. That said, it's definitely in the mold of Whitney Houston's cover of Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You. It may not be better than original, but it's a hell of a lot more appealing to today's audience.
To anyone who has read Scalzi before, the style will be familiar. He tells a crisp story full of vibrant characters. Jack Holloway - a cynical mineral surveyor who uses his dog to detonate explosives - has discovered a once in a life time vein of gems on the planet Zara XXIII. He stands to make himself, and the company that employs him, billions in credits. Unfortunately, Holloway has also discovered a new species that may or may not be sentient calling into question humanity's right to exploit the planet.
Holloway, along with the entire cast of characters, is laced with sarcasm. Almost every sentence has an eye roll, or veiled undertone attached to it. While all the dialogue is done with skill, I found myself wondering how so many witty people wound up on the same planet. It almost became a little tiresome when the characters continue to be flip with matters of life and death. Despite that, it's engaging and at times laugh out loud funny.
Some might read Fuzzy Nation with an eye toward ethnicity and subsequently civil rights. Some of that is certainly present, but Scalzi's main thrust is morality. Throughout the novel Halloway and others are forced to confront ethical dilemmas. By the end Scalzi clearly trumpets ethical relativism or maybe more accurately what might be called ethical selectivity. By that I mean the ethical solution is not always the right one.
To me, Fuzzy Nation is a big success. It has a charm that tends to be nonexistent in genre fiction reminding me of something by Christopher Moore. And that's why I'm excited. Scalzi has stimulated my love of the "fantasy" by setting his tale in the future, but simultaneously he satisfies my need for well written wit. That's a trick that just isn't seen everyday. I hope this is a signal to publishers that author's can do the unexpected and people will buy it. Thumbs up to John Scalzi and double thumbs up to Tor Books.(less)
http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Know what I liked about The Third? There are no right answers. In Abel Keogh's novel of the near future, the...morehttp://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Know what I liked about The Third? There are no right answers. In Abel Keogh's novel of the near future, the world has responded to the threat of global warming by instituting strict population limits and rationing resources. I was very hesitant to read the novel because the global warming issue has become so politicized in recent years that I fear any novel built around the concept will demagogue for one side or the other. I shouldn't have worried.
The story centers on Ransom Lawe - a recycler whose job entails leaving the confines of the walled city and stripping abandoned buildings for resources. Lawe, already questioning the rightness of a society that demeans a woman's right to have children, finds himself in dire circumstances when his wife, Teya, becomes pregnant with their third child. Two children are frowned upon, but a third is illegal.
Throughout the novel Keogh asks all the right questions. Is global warming the threat the government claims it is? If it is, does that threat justify denying humanity's natural rights? The Third shows both points of view through two distinct characters - Mona, Teya's sister and Director of Population at the Census Bureau and Esperanza, a prominent leader in the resistance. Mona believes so strongly in the necessity to protect the earth and humanity's survival as a species that she will not help her own sister give birth. In contrast, Esperanza espouses an almost Ayn Randian vision of self determination as she tries to free the Lawe family.
After finishing I can honestly say I'm not sure what Keogh believes. For me though, that is the point. He seems to say there is no perfect solution. Is the earth getting warmer? Absolutely, the data is irrefutable. That said there's not yet a consensus on what's causing it. And even if there were, what cost is society willing to pay to turn back the thermometer? Beyond the issue of global warming, Keogh also delves into the idea of social change. Using Mona and Esperanza again he sets up an almost Malcolm X/Martin Luther King Jr. paradigm. Can change be best accomplished within the system or can things only truly change through revolution? It's a provocative discussion and only hinted at, eschewing the frank discussions that get someone pigeonholed as a political mouthpiece.
The one downside for me was in how Teya was written. Keogh portrays her as incapable of dealing with the situation. She's often reduced to a simpering layabout waiting for her husband or sister to solve her problems. Even when she makes a decision she bungles it only complicating the already herculean task she's put before her husband. It seemed to me that Keogh played into many of the emotional stereotypes surrounding women (and in case my wife is reading this - they're all crap!). Perhaps he makes up for this in Esperanza and Mona who are both far stronger female characters. I still feel like the novel could have had the same impact without her being characterized this way.
Unlike many books that deals with large social issues, The Third is current. While in the tradition of 1984 and Brave New World, Keogh discusses themes that are far more relevant to today's young people making it a great option for high school reading lists. I definitely recommend The Third and I’ll be interested to see what Abel Keogh writes in the future. (less)
Written in the first person, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is Yeine Darre's recounting of her life. She is both a participant and an observer in her story which leads to a unique narrative structure where she both describes what's going on, but often takes an aside to put it into context as an omniscient storyteller. Using this methodology, Jemisin presents a style that is uniquely intimate. I often felt like a voyeur lurking on the outskirts of something I shouldn't be seeing. It is beautifully written and brims with emotion.
Throughout the story, Yeine finds herself pitted against two of her cousins in a contest for the Arameri throne. The Arameri, by divine right, hold the leash of Nightlord Nahadoth (god of darkness, chaos, etc.) and his three children who have been imprisoned in human form by the Brightlord Itempas (god of order, light, etc.). So powerful are these captive gods that the Arameri rule the hundred thousand kingdoms without opposition. Yeine, rebels against this world where gods are at her beck and call. She expresses disenfranchisement with the excess and corruption of the Arameri who use Itempas' judgement to extend their dominion.
Jemisin writes a story that is fundamentally ambivalent. There is no morality in her story other than what her character, Yeine, perceives as right. The gods, even the Nightlord (a moniker traditionally reserved for the darkest fiend), exhibit qualities that make them representative of both good and evil. She supports the notion that order does not always mean right and chaos is not always evil instead perspective is the ultimate arbiter of judgement.
She takes it further by taking her gods off the pedestal and imbuing them with humanity. One of the tenets of romanticist fantasy is the unknowing forces of nature (read gods). In Kingdoms the forces of nature are not only knowable, they have faces, and weaknesses of character that are authentic not just constructs of veracity. Yeine interacts with and confronts these forces trying to recognize not only her place in the world, but the justification for their place as well.
Ultimately, I think Jemisin ask her readers to consider their relationship to spirituality and morality. Is our existence significant? Is what we do and how we do it important? Religious or not (I'm not), these questions are the reason people are attracted to the fantasy genre. I've most often heard escapism as the primary driver of fantasy readers - not me. For me, it's because I ask these questions of myself. For someone who doesn't necessarily believe in God, great fantasy makes me try to rationalize my place in things in a way no other genre does. It frees me to come to grips with my own relationship to the fantastic.
Oh, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is really good.(less)