I found this in the depths of my mom's bookcase. Her old copy from college, complete with underlining in purple ink.
This is truly weird stuff. I'd ra...moreI found this in the depths of my mom's bookcase. Her old copy from college, complete with underlining in purple ink.
This is truly weird stuff. I'd rate it alongside of Murakami's stranger stuff like Hard-Boiled Wonderland (and one could draw similarities between the two). All the more surprising that it's from 1945.
The story largely follows Lester as she reconciles with her husband and an old friend. However, when we meet Lester on the first page, she has just died. Throw in a cult-leader Necromancer and a prophetic painter, and it's a pretty spooky tale of the living trying to control the dead and the dead just trying to make amends.
I was pleasantly surprised that all of the major players had some depth to them. Told in a third-person omniscient, we hear all of the characters doubts, desires, and insecurities, and the story is better for it.
What keeps this from being great are Williams' meandering theological musings. They're hard to follow, dull, and slow everything down. And this is coming from a guy who enjoys reading dense theology.
All in all, worth the read, especially if you like your fantasy weird and spiced with a theological message. (less)
Upon hearing the news of Jack Vance's passing, I picked this up out of my stack of second-hand, sci-fi paperbacks as a small way of honoring the man....moreUpon hearing the news of Jack Vance's passing, I picked this up out of my stack of second-hand, sci-fi paperbacks as a small way of honoring the man. This little novella is an ironic account of the demise of a society of aristocratic buffoons who have built their civilization upon slave labor. Like most Vance, it's short and witty, and the language and ideas take precedence over characters or plot.
The opening paragraph tells us of the fall of the next-to-last castle, decimated by their slaves, a race called the Meks:
"In the end, death came uniformly to all, and all extracted as much satisfaction from their dying as this essentially graceless process could afford."
From there, the action follows the last castle, Hagedorn, who, not knowing of the utter destruction of all the other castles, consider how to handle their recent lack of slave labor in the most dignified manner possible. Thus, we get all kinds of delicious dramatic irony from the bumbling bourgeois of Hagedorn who seriously underestimate the slave rebellion they have on their hands.
Vance makes neither the Meks nor the humans sympathetic, save for a few thinly drawn human characters. This isn't too big a deal, as it's the dramatic irony that makes this story work. The ending too is underdeveloped, but that's forgivable as well. Vance wants to amuse us with our own arrogance and frivolity, teasing rather than horrifying us with our banal acceptance of oppression. At this The Last Castle succeeds but, like so many amusements, is soon forgotten.(less)
This is the Sci-Fi version of Swords and Sorcery. Call it "Blasters and Technology". It's adventure, with a plot that stitches together narrow escape...moreThis is the Sci-Fi version of Swords and Sorcery. Call it "Blasters and Technology". It's adventure, with a plot that stitches together narrow escape to narrow escape. Adam Reith is stranded on the planet Tschai, where humans are enslaved by several alien races, and dammit, he just wants to go back home to Earth. But he's gotta enlist the help of primitively tribal and pathetically enslaved humans to help him do it. Not that they'll help him much. Reith is constantly annoyed that he has to convince the humans of Tschai that they're worth a darn, but he's a take-charge kind of guy, so it works out.
This is Jack Vance in high descriptive mode. Not much philosophical musing here, but there are gobs of images and colors on every page. If you're into imagining far-out places and people as you read, this is a book for you. If you couldn't care less about the cut and color of a Chaschman guard's uniform and want just get right to the alien blasting, Vance's descriptive exercises may wear on you. I personally relished the detail and the clarity of the action scenes.
A note on misogyny: I know that pulpy Sci-Fi is not often where you turn to find fully realized female (and, uh, male) characters, but the coven of man-hating, man-slaying priestesses seemed a bit over the top. The other two females who function as love interests here are just barely characters at all. Take that for what you will.(less)
Marune starts off like an "I've got amnesia, who am I?" mystery and evolves into palatial political intrigue. All in a different galaxy than ours, of...moreMarune starts off like an "I've got amnesia, who am I?" mystery and evolves into palatial political intrigue. All in a different galaxy than ours, of course. Technically, it's science fiction, but really it's more like social-science fiction. Vance is thinking about culture here: where it comes from, how it can at as a barrier between peoples, the amount which it becomes ingrained in us, the seriousness and artifice of it all. This philosophizing shows up more so in his world-building description rather than plot, though there's enough interlacing of themes throughout to satisfy. The rigid customs of the Rhunes, the culture of focus in Marune, distinctly reminded me of Mervyn Peake's The Gormenghast Novels. If you enjoyed those, some similar pleasures are to be found here. It's light, imaginative fun.(less)
A fictional travelogue with a philosophical bent, The Golden Age will appeal to fans of Borges. The narrator travels to a remote island whose inhabita...moreA fictional travelogue with a philosophical bent, The Golden Age will appeal to fans of Borges. The narrator travels to a remote island whose inhabitants find meaning in the transitory and inexact: murmurs, stains, the sounds of water and wind, the shifting of stories as they travel from person to person. The narrator is sometimes frustrated with the islanders acceptance of the inexact. Indeed, it's frustrating for the reader too as he tells it. There are passages that can be a slog as the narrator attempts to describe the inexact with exact words.
There's plenty of the wondrous and weird to stoke the imagination. There's also stories within stories galore. Most diversions are fun, though a few a tedious. I'm reminded of Gödel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and it's explanations of pushing and popping in call stacks.
The last half of the novel is devoted to the islanders' Book, which like everything else for them is always changing. Here is where the bulk of the novels storytelling occurs. There's no edge-of-your-seat excitement, but you will be entertained by the strangeness of it all. This isn't fabulism at its finest, but it gets points for imagination.
As for the novel's philosophical pursuits, if you like musing on how language and writing shape our thinking and interact with meaning, there's plenty to dwell on here. If that just sounds dreadfully dull, I'd avoid this one like a rabid badger. (less)
We listened to this on a long road trip. It made the drive quick and pleasant. I enjoyed Suzanne Collins' matter-of-fact style. It lacked flourish, bu...moreWe listened to this on a long road trip. It made the drive quick and pleasant. I enjoyed Suzanne Collins' matter-of-fact style. It lacked flourish, but I wouldn't call it spartan. She didn't use her dystopian setting as an excuse to become preachy or moralizing, which I appreciated.
For a book about kids killing kids, it wasn't overly grim. There's violence, for sure, but the gruesomeness isn't overstated. The characters don't agonize over the morality of their killing. Having lived their lives watching others in the Games, they mostly accept it. Still, I would've liked to have seen more sticky moral situations for the characters and less resolutions by circumstance. Overall, I was kept on edge, but rarely surprised at an outcome.
Katniss Everdeen won't win you over with charm but with her resolve and compassionate character. She has flashes of wittiness, but mostly just takes care of business as she has had to do since her father died.
They're gonna have to try hard to make this a bad movie.(less)
Three novellas on the theme of the tragic love triangle. The first, "Revenge," is Millhauser at his most emotionally effective. Despite the artifice i...moreThree novellas on the theme of the tragic love triangle. The first, "Revenge," is Millhauser at his most emotionally effective. Despite the artifice in Millhauser's writing, he still manages to lure the reader into connecting with his lovesick characters. I'd compare it to how Wes Anderson's films have sympathetic characters despite the dollhouse-like settings.(less)
Jack Vance's books are fun to read. These aren't novels that you'd want to read for their intricate plots or page-turning suspense. These are novels t...moreJack Vance's books are fun to read. These aren't novels that you'd want to read for their intricate plots or page-turning suspense. These are novels that you read for Jack Vance's narrative voice and his character and scenic descriptions. And on that level, these three novels are completely successful. I kept returning to these novels because I wanted to know what dry and witty thing the hero, Kirth Gerson, might say next. I looked forward to the snippets of philosophical insight that often introduced the chapters. They didn't move the story along but they gave me a real sense of the universe Jack Vance has created.
One more thing: Jack Vance comes up with the best character names. Names like Kirth Gerson, Malagate the Woe, and Viole Falushe were constantly ringing in my head as I read these novels.(less)
Really enjoying the entrepreneurial dreamer atmosphere of this! Millhauser definitely takes his time in telling the story, but he's one of those autho...moreReally enjoying the entrepreneurial dreamer atmosphere of this! Millhauser definitely takes his time in telling the story, but he's one of those authors that makes it enjoyable to submerge yourself into the many details without feeling overwhelmed. (less)
This contains one of my all-time favorite stories, "The Golden Key," a story that I first read in elementary school and still manages to instill in me...moreThis contains one of my all-time favorite stories, "The Golden Key," a story that I first read in elementary school and still manages to instill in me awe and wonder.(less)