I read Mitchell's multi-mini-story Ghostwritten, and found it less than exciting. I know folks raved about Cloud Atlas and it got the movie treatment...moreI read Mitchell's multi-mini-story Ghostwritten, and found it less than exciting. I know folks raved about Cloud Atlas and it got the movie treatment and all, but I remained hesitant.
Then I read the review of The Bone Clocks by the marvelous New Yorker literary critic, James Wood (author of How Fiction Works), and realized I have no interest in reading any more Mitchell.
Wood's essay, "Soul Cycle", is exactly what a long-form hunk of literary criticism should be. It does contain minor spoilers of this book, but it is also likely to gently dissuade people from reading the book until Mitchell cleans up his act, so the spoilers are in the service of good.(less)
There’s potentially a lot of promise behind this book, but as of today, it isn’t convincing enough.
The science and history presented in the first port...moreThere’s potentially a lot of promise behind this book, but as of today, it isn’t convincing enough.
The science and history presented in the first portion of the book almost make it worth reading, regardless of the flaws in the rest.
First, the discussion of the functional division of the various major structures in the brain was well done. For example, there is a great little diagram on page 29 that quickly and clearly delineates what the four lobes of the brain do (somewhat like this, but the book’s version is more parsimonious).
Then the authors shift to the convincing scientific evidence that different people perceive in sometimes substantially different ways, and that this is related to how their brain is wired. This is the Object-Spatial Imagery hypothesis, and it seems pretty solid. Primary visual processing occurs in the occipital lobe, but it seems that objects are recognized and processed in the temporal cortex, whereas spatial processing occurs in the parietal cortex. In other words, one part of our brain figures out what we’re seeing, but is clueless about where it is, while another knows where it is, but really isn’t clear on any details about what it is. Fascinating, but well supported.
This 2006 article is pretty easy reading, as science articles go, and has an embedded test that will quiz you on your preferred style; later portions show examples of the kinds of tests that correspond to what the different styles are good at. I long known that I’m great at spatial reasoning, and I’ve always been slightly mystified when people describe in great detail what takes place in their “minds eye”, but this explains it: I’m pretty close to zeroed out what apparently happens in the temporal lobe. On page 250 (the 12th page) of the article, there’s a “degraded picture” of a common object, and I literally couldn’t see it even after being told what was somehow hidden in there. (Strangely, I was going to say “I still can’t see it”, but when I looked up the page number, I was able to spot the object for the first time, but keep in mind I already knew what I was looking for.)
The old “left-brain/right-brain” comes in for a great drubbing, and includes some very interesting history, especially of Phineas Gage, a man whose improbably survival of a horrific accident led to tremendous advances in pioneering neuroanatomy. If you don’t know the story, you really should check it out. Even if you do know the basics of the story, you might not know some of the details, such as the fact that the iron rod was “three feet, seven inches long, and an inch and a quarter in diameter at its thickest point” and “landed more than sixty feet behind him” — after going through his skull!
But the worthwhile part of the book is over at that point.
The remainder explains the “top brain/bottom brain” hypothesis. They make the claim that, unlike most popular cognition tests floating around the world, theirs is based on actual science. But the connection is weak.
Here’s the gist:
The portion of the brain we’re interested (e.g., cerebral cortex, as opposed to the subcortical portion of the cerebrum or the brain stem) can usefully be divided into the top brain, consisting of the parietal lobe and the top of the frontal lobe, and the bottom brain, consisting of the lower portion of the frontal lobe, along with the temporal and occipital lobes.
I’m going to put more crudely than they do, but effectively the top brain is responsible for planning and the thinking associated with that in a very broad sense. The bottom brain deals with processing sensory input, as well as any associated complex thinking.
Everyone uses all of their brain, but — according to the hypothesis — we’ll rely even more on one of these (or both, or neither), depending on our temperament and habit, some of which devolves from genetic factors.
In their system, if you “rely” on both the top and the bottom, then you tend to use the “Mover mode”. If you rely on the top, but not the bottom, you’re a “Stimulator”. In the reverse, you’d be a “Perceiver”. If you don’t really rely on either, then you’re more of a go-with-the-flow “Adaptor”. Because their test might tell you that you “tend to rely” or “tend not to rely”, there are actually sixteen categories, so there’s some gray area.
The first problem is how they describe those categories. Even though they assert that none of them are better or worse, it will quickly become clear that the “Movers” are going to be the heroes here. And you can’t say you didn’t see that coming — after all, if you don’t rely on some major portion of your brain, you’re likely to run into some problems, aren’t you?
The first disturbing weakness in the “science” shows up when they provide the detailed descriptions of the four modes. They explain how two actual public figures and one imaginary person exemplify that mode’s behavior. One of the real humans is contemporary, the other is historic. Then there is a just-so story made up to “illuminate” the hypothetical person. This should get you wondering: of the many billions of people on the planet that must fit this category, this is the best they can do? Without conducting any actual tests on Michael Bloomberg (the ex-mayor of New York) or the Wright brothers, the author uses them as archetypal Movers. Are there any real “normal” human beings that walk amongst us that are also Movers? Because the best they can do is an almost idealized “Lisa”, who’s story ends with her considering whether to found her own startup.
The depictions of the other three modes are no better, although despite the author’s contention that none are really better than others, they make it increasingly clear that we’re gradually getting into loser territory. Everyone who isn’t a Mover had better marry well, so your spouse compliments there flaws.
Chapter thirteen introduces the test (which you can also take online, although no explanation is provided). The next chapter explains how scientific the test is, although it doesn’t take a very close reading to see some pretty gaping holes.
After writing hundreds of questions, they evaluated many hundreds of response from online test-takers, and figured out which questions correlated well with one another. To them, that means they’re finding questions that measure the same thing, albeit from different angles. Fine, as far as that goes. At that point, they tested how people’s scores on their final test correlated with well established standardized tests — a lengthy list is provided at the bottom of page 166. Frankly, that sounds backwards to me — design the test, and then see if it correlates to what you hoped it would?
The big problem is that the scores from the questions intended to measure reliance on top-brain functions are what correlated to all those tests (which cover quite a spectrum of psych tests), whereas… well, this is the way they put it:
Specifically, the scores on the bottom-brain scale did not correlate with any of the other test scores; this means that these scores are measuring something completely distinct.
Got that? Because that is all they’re going to say about it. There is no evidence given that the bottom-brain scores have anything to do with bottom-brain functionality. Or, if there is, it didn’t occur to them to provide it (I suppose I may have missed it, but I double and triple-checked). All we know is that the “something completely distinct” being tested is statistically consistent amongst the question, but not what it actually is.
The remaining chapters go into using your knowledge of your mode to learn to play well with others, blah blah blah. Honestly, at that point I was almost skimming, looking for a life saver that would rescue my opinion of this book.
How I scored, personally, also affected my judgement of the book. I don’t think that is a great reason for anyone else to dismiss it, since I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’m an outlier in many ways, and since those are none of your business, I’m not going to provide any substantiation. However, I will say that I was tagged as a lean-towards Stimulator, which came as something of a surprise, since neither my actual life nor my inner thinking bears any resemblance to what had been described in that chapter. What I actually spend far too much time doing came closest to the librarian described as the hypothetical Perceiver, but that requires that I not rely on my top-brain, which is laughable.
I didn’t give this one star for two reasons: the first is that the introductory chapters are interesting, and worth reading. Get a copy from the library and read through Chapter Six, and you’ll have a quick and easy read about some interesting aspects of neuroanatomy and cognition. Don’t buy a copy, because these authors shouldn’t be rewarded for what is honestly shoddy work.
But the second reason is more nuanced. Enough of what they are working towards seems sensible that this could be a deeply flawed first hint at a better model of how people’s behavior emerges from how the brain is used.
Instead of everyone falling into four modes (or along two intersecting spectrums, which is what the sixteen categories hint at), what this suggests to me is that the more high-functioning you are within a context, the better you’ll use the relevant portion of the brain. Or, probably, the reverse: the better you use a relevant portion of your brain in a certain context, the more high-functioning you’ll be in that context.
Visualization along the spatial/object spectrums is a good indicator: people that can easily image spatial information would be better at navigating, for example (something I excel at), while someone poor at object visualization would make a poor illustrator. In fact, the last two pages of the book returned to an excellent example of this, referring to a research experiment that tested the spatial/object visualization hypothesis.
Pairs of people were assigned the task of navigating a maze (video-game style) peopled with “Greebles”. The navigation task required spatial visualization, the Greeble recognition required object recognition. If one or the other skill was missing from the team, they’d score poorly in the game. If the people with the required task were assigned to appropriate roles, the team scored very well. All that is as one might expect.
However, if the correct skills are present between the two, but those people are assigned to the wrong tasks, it got interesting. If they couldn’t communicate, they did horribly, but if they could talk, they quickly recognized that the trick would be for each to direct the other, and they scored quite well.
The PhD author, Kosslyn, was the last-named author of the paper that described this (the link is above). In coming decades, it seems certain that we will decode which functional structures of the brain do what, and it seems reasonable that the ability to actually perform those functions well will require strong neural linkages to the other brain structures that provide executive function. This book hints at that direction, but poorly so — it should have been shelved for a few years until a clearer picture had developed, and more evidence for any model could be prevented. (less)
Not quite as strong as the first two in the series.
What Jones did very well with this series is bringing to life enjoyable primary characters that are...moreNot quite as strong as the first two in the series.
What Jones did very well with this series is bringing to life enjoyable primary characters that are flawed in ways that are simultaneously amusing and understandable. The young heroine here keeps telling herself she must be nicer to Peter, who is a seriously clueless young man, as well as to others, but she keeps being distracted by how irritating they are. I suspect her target audience is the tween, and from what I vaguely recall of that age, there's a good deal of anxious self-doubt to get through, so providing a role model that is likeable even as they go through similar struggles is delightful.
The closing chapters of this volume suffer from what I'll term the Chrestomanci Syndrome: one or more of the characters are benevolent magic users that are so powerful that everything is tidied up without any sense of struggle, even though the great majority of the story had been about a gradually increasing sense of chaos and trouble. Having someone parachute in (well, metaphorically) and solve all problems might be A Good Thing in a story for a toddler, but it certainly doesn't belong here.
However, since no one is going to read these looking primarily for dramatic coherence, it actually doesn't hurt too much. Although Diana Wynne Jones is apparently compared to J.K. Rowling, this isn't Harry Potter (although the titular House is pleasantly reminiscent of Hogwart's).
Definitely a pleasant addition to a young person's bookshelf, and a nice mindless brain-candy read for adults.(less)
Dreams and Shadows, by C. Robert Cargill, is a paranormal fantasy that is worth reading. It definitely has problems, but it doesn’t deserve having the...moreDreams and Shadows, by C. Robert Cargill, is a paranormal fantasy that is worth reading. It definitely has problems, but it doesn’t deserve having the first few reviews on Goodreads being so incredibly negative.
I suspect the author has stumbled into a trap: some of those that might like this book are going to not like it with a passion — enough to write a scathing review — while those that enjoy it will struggle to put into words just why. That is because the many attributes that make this a good book are scattered, and can’t be conveniently placed in a single, breathless narrative.
There are real flaws, and then there are style choices which some people don’t like.
To me, the biggest difficulty is that the story has little tension in it until the second half. The first half is good storytelling, but has all the emotional potency that Snow White has, once one is an adult. This isn’t mere worldbuilding — there are characters unfolding, and plots beginning their slow arcs — but it is far too tempting to give up, before the going gets good. And it does get, good, even to the last pages.
Another problem is that interleaved with the narrative chapters are “educational” chapters, nominally extracts from books about the fae. While this is a moderately clever way of getting around the “show, don’t tell” rule of storytelling, it still slows things down with the artifice. It is much better than one character lecturing another, certainly, but much of the information given in these interludes could have been elided. Having several children in the tale, who are naturally asking questions, was already adequately smooth way at providing necessary background information.
Here are a few things that seem to anger, disgust, or merely disappoint:
There is violence and gore here. Characters you like will die, and characters you don’t like won’t die, or they won’t die satisfactorily. Frankly, if that really bothers, you, then go back to reading children’s stories. I’m more dismayed when an author has all of the readers’ favorites survive, regardless of the danger of the quest or the mayhem swirling around them.
The author is unfortunately compared to The Chosen One, Neil Gaiman, who is trendy in this domain the way Tesla is to science fanboys and fangirls. I’ve read enough Gaiman to understand why the marketing folks would toss his name in there, but to downgrade an author for who someone else has compared them to is, frankly, a vile thing to do. If the author had made such a boast, then it’d be fair; if not, judge the book on its own terms.
The worldbuilding is a bit mixed, with middle-eastern Djinn and the Native American Coyote trickster mixed in with otherwise northern European faeries (mostly Irish, as far as I can tell). Oh, and fallen Angels. This has really worked well for Jim Butcher in his Dresden Files, but I can’t say I consider it anything more than an adequate device. A real artist would invent a whole new mythology to serve (e.g., Tolkein, Herbert), but I’m not asserting that this is a five-star book; just that the rating in the high-threes is more earned, and the reviews in the one-to-three range are too harsh.
That said, although Coyote’s role could have gone to Puck (púca), for the story to work, the author needed more gravitas. Given the role Coyote is playing by the end, the gravitas really is necessary.
What makes this a very good book is the way the author doesn’t simply increase the tension (and violence, and gore) as the story arcs higher and higher, but how the philosophy that lies beneath the story is gradually revealed, showing the inevitability of that clash. The world of humans and of fae that Cargill lays out isn’t stable, and the character of Colby is a well-crafted answer to that problem, although he isn’t always a very nice person. (less)
The cartoon treatment makes this critical (or hot!... sorry) but somewhat academic topic more manageable. Those who are have already formed beliefs an...moreThe cartoon treatment makes this critical (or hot!... sorry) but somewhat academic topic more manageable. Those who are have already formed beliefs and conclusions on the subject are unlikely to be swayed, but there are undoubtedly plenty out there who aren't yet sure what to think, and this is their book.
The Kindle edition saves paper, and at about $10.50 is a pretty inexpensive way of getting this, but you can't pass it on to others after reading it. For a few bucks more, you can buy it and keep it in circulation. If you're annoyed with Amazon, Indiebound can point you to a local book merchant that sells it.
Then there's the even greener option. My library has six copies. You can check to see if any library in your area has one here.(less)
Three and a half stars really. The technobabble limits the audience, but scifi geeks will find it pretty well done. But it felt a bit arbitrary, oddly...moreThree and a half stars really. The technobabble limits the audience, but scifi geeks will find it pretty well done. But it felt a bit arbitrary, oddly. I am intrigued enough that I'll try to get to the sequel.(less)
I jumped straight to the final two to start with the ones I was most interested in, but every story here is worth reading.
1. ★★★☆☆ Tough Times All Over, by Joe Abercrombie
Light, clever and amusing, and fits in with the theme of rogues several times over, but anything more would be a spoiler.
2. ★★★★☆ What Do You Do?, by Gillian Flynn
Not in the fantasy subgenre. But I'm not sure what genre it is in, so I'm going to call this psycho fiction, because it delves into psychological stuff in several ways. First, it gets nicely into the head of the protagonist; second, there's the element of psycho, qu'est-ce que c'est? And finally, there's some nice tension because you really don't know quite what is going on, and who is doing what to whom.
Well, other than the handjobs. It's pretty clear who is doing those.
3. ★★★★☆ The Inn of the Seven Blessings, by Matthew Hughes
Pleasant — nothing too fancy, nothing too clever, but good craftsmanship. The characters are begging for more depth, but can't really get it in a short story, I guess.
4. ★★★★☆ Bent Twig, by Joe R. Lansdale
Heh heh. I don't know what this was, but it was fun. A Texas town full of ne'er do wells, beating each other up. Hicks with honor versus scum. But very well done, whatever curious sub-sub genre it's representing.
5. ★★★☆☆ Tawny Petticoats, by Michael Swanwick
6. ★★★★☆ Provenance, by David Ball
This historical fiction was almost a five-star story. Very well told, but there just a little too much convenience in the denouement.
7. ★★★☆☆ The Roaring Twenties, by Carrie Vaughn
A nice little story in the sub-sub-sub-genre of paranormal urban historical fantasy. Really three and a half stars, but what can I do?
8. ★★☆☆☆ A Year and a Day in Old Theradane, by Scott Lynch
The weakest of the bunch, although that judgement is undoubtedly affected by my prior reading of his Gentleman Bastard series. Lynch adheres to the same formula he uses in those books (although his characters here are mostly women), one that is initially quite exciting, but eventually palls. His heroes are thieves stealing from socially superior but morally inferior miscreants, and start out arrogantly overconfident, are foiled and imperiled, but always are more clever than their even more egregiously arrogant opponents and manage — surprise! — to turn the tables.
9. ★★★☆☆ Bad Brass, by Bradley Denton
Kin to chapter four; more Texas.
10. ★★★☆☆ Heavy Metal, by Cherie Priest
I was disappointed in the single steampunk novel of Priest's that I read, principally because of her casual disdain for the laws of physics. That's tolerable if magic is invoked, but that wasn't where she sited that particular story. Here she's on firmer ground. Kind of a variation on the modern urban paranormal story, except completely rural instead.
11. ★★★★☆ The Meaning of Love, by Daniel Abraham
This one starts off with a pretty hackneyed plot, but the author spins it out very well. Noble thieves again, though.
12. ★★★☆☆ A Better Way to Die, by Paul Cornell
Probably deserves more than three stars, but I'd been drinking rye.
13. ★★★☆☆ Ill Seen in Tyre, by Steven Saylor
The story itself is unexceptional, but nice. But what really caught my attention was the invocation of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. That's right, the curious phenomena when something you've just learned of suddenly pops up when you least expect it. Also known of as the Observational Selection Bias to less imaginative cognition-geeks. Anyway, I just got around to reading a queer little paranormal novel by fellow San Franciscan Fritz Leiber, who turns out to be famous for his fantasy series involving Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and suddenly they show up in this short story. Serendipity, you say? Fates have decreed that I should read that series, you say? Hmm, maybe... but it's eight novels long! I don't have that kind of time.
14. ★★☆☆☆ A Cargo of Ivories, by Garth Nix
Meh. Completely arbitrary.
15. ★★★★☆ Diamonds From Tequila, by Walter Jon Williams
Very nice! Our charming but barely moral anti-hero is a Hollywood star, struggling to unravel a murder during production of the movie that he desperately needs to succeed. I'll have to check out the author's The Fourth Wall, which introduced the fellow.
16. ★★★★★ The Caravan to Nowhere, by Phyllis Eisenstein
Spooky, and flawless. A tale of drug addiction and betrayed trust in the desert.
17. ★★★☆☆ The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives, by Lisa Tuttle
The mood and setting of this paranormal Victorian mystery were wonderful, but the characters were just a bit too smugly and simplistically drawn (the fellow Jesperson too much of a competent male), and the mystery itself too arbitrary to be dramatic.
18. ★★★★☆ How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, by Neil Gaiman
I have to confess, despite the mortal peril it may put me in, that I am not among the crowd that worships at the foot of Neil Gaiman. He writes nice stories, even very nice ones, but while the are undeniably precious, they aren't in a way that captures my undying adulation. That said, this is a nice story. It is an adjunct to his book (or, more properly, his novelization of his television series) Neverwhere. If you like his stuff, you will enjoy this, of course.
19. ★★★★☆ Now Showing, by Connie Willis
I don't even know what this was. A hyperbolic riff on the name of the book, coupled with a commentary on consumer manipulation, disguised as a silly romance? Most of Willis' research was apparently done on IMDB, whatever it was. Anyway, it was fun and frothy and gets three stars for that, and one more for being completely unexpected.
20. ★★★★★ The Lightning Tree, by Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss is famous for The Name of the Wind, which was a stunning debut, marred in my estimation by his over-capable hero, Klothve. This story stays away from Klothve, focusing on a day-in-the-life of his fae sidekick, Bast, and is the better for it. By avoiding the overly dramatic life of his nominal protagonist, his narrative skills really get a chance to shine. There are no spoilers here with respect to the novels, and this story would be a lark even to those that haven't touched the series.
If this is the high point of this collection, I'll be satisfied. If there's better, I'll be floored.
21. ★★★★☆ The Rogue Prince, or A King's Brother, by G.R.R. Martin
Gently disappointing, but somewhat disconcerting, too, in how provocative that is.
Martin has obviously been in the biz long enough to know the adage to show, not tell, right? But this story is all a telling, with nary a tidbit of dialog or action. In one sense, it seems to be an experiment. Instead of the kind of driving narrative we know to expect from a page-turner, we get a historic, almost biblical, recitation of events. The only way this is acceptable is because Martin's Westeros is undoubtedly intimately known to the overwhelming majority of those picking up this fat collection, and he's winking and teasing us. To anyone else, the story will be an opaque collection of names and events with no context to provide any drama.
To those in the know— inevitably, only a indulgent subset of those — we get a distilled essence of the kind of dynastic politics that forms the backbone to his epic. One way to look at this is as a story outline, the dry textbook version before he has reanimated the personalities and the twisted intricacies of their relationships.
Finally, I suspect the wink and the tease is also about the absurd heights that the HBO series has added to the already stratospheric expectations he faces. To anyone who has only seen the television program, this story will be incomprehensible, as it contains none of the lurid melodrama that Has become the show's trademark. Readers, accomplished in using their own imaginations, and not a cinematographer's craft, will be those that can brew a satisfying cup of tea from the dry leaves he provides, and will be reminded that the best drama is in their own imaginings, and the best authors merely provide careful hints and nudges. He's a tricky man.(less)
I have no recollection of how this book ended up on my to-be-read short list. I suspect my interest in all things San Francisco found it for me —I lov...moreI have no recollection of how this book ended up on my to-be-read short list. I suspect my interest in all things San Francisco found it for me — I love the city I call home.
I picked up the book because it was on my list. I thought at the time, very vaguely, that Fritz Leiber might have been the author of that famous science fiction classic about the jewish engineer who is sainted after World War III. Hah! No, that was Leibowitz, and he was the titular character, not the author.
Our Lady of Darkness is nominally a horror story, but since there isn’t even a hint of gore, it is much more tame than I imagine the horror genre to be (which I assiduously avoid, otherwise).
While poking around on the webs, I found local science blogger Annalee Newitz (of io9.com fame) is a fanatic for the book, which might also be how I heard of it. I’m going to quote her blurb on the book:
I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with Fritz Leiber’s novel Our Lady of Darkness. It’s pretty much the best book I’ve ever read about my hometown, San Francisco — but it’s also just a great work of urban fantasy that seamlessly blends sexually liberated 1970s California with ancient forces of darkness drawn from pulp fiction.
Since I’m not usually a fan of horror, I can’t tell anyone specifically seeking that whether this book is good or great, although the overall rating is quite good. Some of the appeal might be similar to that a science fiction fan feels going back to Asimov or early Heinlein (before he became a creepy old man), and indulging in an exploration of the roots of the genre.
I can say that this is a hoot for a San Franciscan. I arrived in the city less than a decade after this was written, and reading it I was pleased and even enchanted at recognizing how much the city had changed beneath my feet, but still has the same romantic appeal. I can look out my kitchen window and see the same Sutro Tower the protagonist finds captivating, and the only reason I can see Corona Heights is because there’s a big hospital in the way. When a scene in the story takes place in the public library, I know that is the old library, which is now the Asian Art Museum (which itself at the time was in Golden Gate Park, in a building that would later be doomed by the 1989 earthquake), and that the “new” library is now almost twenty years old. Urp. But to paraphrase something I just read about contemporary London, "Compared with when I first came here, San Francisco is so wonderfully unbuttoned and all the better for it," and of course San Francisco has always been a bit more unbuttoned than the rest of the United States, and all the better for it.
The story doesn’t overly concern itself with San Francisco, but the city as a backdrop sets the mood in important ways. The hippie era had ended (on a sour note, vide), but eclectic ways of dressing were still prevalent, and of course the city was far ahead of the rest of the country with respect to drug use and, er, nontraditional sexuality.
If you have any interest in paranormal / weird fiction, this is a quick and respected classic. If you have any interest in San Francisco, this is a piquant treat.(less)
This is a simple review of a flawed book in a very, very ambitious series.
First, I noticed what others have as well — the first half of the book is mu...moreThis is a simple review of a flawed book in a very, very ambitious series.
First, I noticed what others have as well — the first half of the book is much more engaging than the remainder. This appears to be related to the vast scope of the series.
The first book is set in a world far away from our Earth, and involves species that bear a strong resemblance to humans, but are quite distinct, with very different histories leading back to a long-disappeared ancient race.
The second book starts off, quite startlingly, right here on our Earth, in more or less the present day. Somehow a character from that other universe appeared here, and seems to be stranded.
Honestly, the boldness of that maneuver, plus the scope of the series — just check out the diagram required to explain the chronology of the stories — wins Asaro a star or so. Such chutzpah should be encouraged, especially if the author doesn't take decades to slowly spool out the epic (G.R.R. Martin, take note).
The strong sense of dislocation on starting this book is probably explained by the diagram. Note that this book — Catch the Lightning — isn't anywhere near the nominal first in the series, Primary Inversion.
But the second half of the book loses a star, but devolving into an extended chase sequence with too much smoke and very little fire. Asaro seems to be too fond of the products of her fevered world-building, and doesn't that describing the most baroque civilization isn't the same thing as story-telling.
She also suffers from an annoying over emphasis on science wizardry. I was recently defending science fiction in front of a reading group, assuring them that there is plenty of scifi that doesn't lean too heavily on robots, spaceships, etc. Well, I definitely won't be recommending Asaro to that bunch (they'll be reading China Miéville's The City and the City, instead!) Anytime technobabble gets so extreme that I — a pretty technical guy — just glaze over and start skimming, it's way beyond too much. Yeah, Asaro's resume is pretty damn impressive, but I'm pretty sure the reading audience that wants that kind of technical depth is quite small.
Upon putting down this book, I didn't intend to read anymore of the series. After seeing the scope of her saga, I have to admit to being curious what she did with all those words.
Dedicated fans of epic science fiction will probably bear with it, but I'm ambivalent. (less)
My mother suggested I read this, and it was her birthday, so I looked into it. The review in the New York Times was worshipful, and I really don't rea...moreMy mother suggested I read this, and it was her birthday, so I looked into it. The review in the New York Times was worshipful, and I really don't read enough modern fiction.
I have to confess, though: it moved too slowly for me. The writing is beautiful, and the pair of narratives twined together very elegantly. It almost felt like the two ends of the story were drawing towards one another, like the cliché of a couple on a date sharing a plate of noodles, only to discover they're slurping up the same noodle, leading inevitably to a kiss, right?
But it didn't have any real passion. I get that — both stories have reasons to be disconnected and passionless, but affectless reading is alienating, obviously.
Helen's story was much more personal, but the timid and frightened life of a small midwestern town was just a little too predictable in it's gross outline. The intimate details that fleshed it out we're crafted well, but the while thing was in sepia.
I picture Isaac's story in the high-contrast, grainy, over-saturated look of today's high-end drama and the retro feel it evokes. The political trajectory lent heightened tension, and in the end it created the need to read the book to it's conclusion.(less)
Excellent imagery and narrative flow are the wins for this monsters-and-magic fantasy, along with good character development. A hero whose skills verg...moreExcellent imagery and narrative flow are the wins for this monsters-and-magic fantasy, along with good character development. A hero whose skills verge on superpowers is the biggest flaw (albeit a near omnipresent one in fantasy), as does an over-reliance on stupidity — the author's story requires a few too many characters to ignore their self-interest in ways that are implausible.(less)