I found this to be an easy read. The story kept me entertained, turning pages to find out what was going to happen next. I enjoyed the Bitchun Society...moreI found this to be an easy read. The story kept me entertained, turning pages to find out what was going to happen next. I enjoyed the Bitchun Society, and how seamlessly Doctorow blended both the high-tech narrative and the deep Disneymania into the story in a supportive way. The plot depended on it, but didn't get overwhelmed by it. So the exposition was handled well, I thought.
Setting the story as a conflict between two teams of hereditary Disney employees bent on making the park a better experience for all involved made the story simultaneously more approachable and more obscure. By setting the action against a backdrop that is essentially the same in whatever far-flung future Doctorow has imagined as it is today, it gives him a familiar anchor point to highlight how different things are. At the same time, however, for those of us who haven't been to Disney in a long time or who are unfamiliar with the various rides featured in the story (I have never seen the Hall of Presidents or the Haunted Mansion because both have always been closed for maintenance during my visits to both Disneyworld and Disneyland.), it is more than a little frustrating.
The problem I had with the book at the beginning was that nothing was really at stake. For anyone. The park was not going anywhere (as in "static"), and all the changes being made were done to preserve the experience for the visiting public. So no matter how it came out, nothing would truly change. Sure, maybe some of the characters would be inconvenienced, but it would be just that--an inconvenience.
Julius, the main character, goes on and on at some length about how death--even his own murder--is not that big a deal. Serious, debilitating health problems--such as, say, murder--are easily fixable: just clone a new body, make a backup, and restore into the new body, better than the previous one. With multiple lifetimes to live, humans tend to lose the urgency that makes every minute of our lives precious, and this is nicely portrayed throughout.
When Julius loses all of that about halfway through the book, this is when it "picked up" for me. Now we have a character who genuinely has something to lose. His every moment becomes precious because he can't back up, so if he renews, he'll lose a large chunk of his life, including the last year of the life of one of his best friends. This underlying story was what kept me turning the page, wondering how it was going to be resolved.
I didn't really expect the revelation at the end (the Whodunnit), but it made sense within the framework of the story, and didn't betray the characters' personalities. I thought Doctorow handled it well.
The reason I gave this three stars instead of four (I did really enjoy it while I was reading it) is that the ending...just sort of petered out. Again, nothing was really at stake. Once Julius agreed to be restored if anything happened to him and forgave his murderers, there just wasn't any reason to care anymore what happened to him. Which may be exactly what Doctorow had in mind. Julius moved on, Disneyworld went back to whatever passes for "normal" in the Bitchun Society, and the story ends. What eventually happens to everyone other than Julius is left unrevealed, and as a reader, that didn't bother me.
Because nothing is at stake for any of them.
My main dilemma right now is trying to decide whether this story was Utopian or dystopian. I could go either way.(less)
I read this book right after it first came out. I thought I remembered the basic plot, but I had opportunity and need to read it again, so I took it o...moreI read this book right after it first came out. I thought I remembered the basic plot, but I had opportunity and need to read it again, so I took it off my shelf, dusted it off, and dove in.
Turns out, I didn't remember the plot much at all except in vague terms. I remembered the "inciting incident" that causes the main character, David Rice, to learn about his ability to teleport. I remembered him testing the limits of what he could do. Something vague about a camera and teleporting to and from airports a lot.
And that was it. (I also erroneously remembered a scene that isn't in the book, and now I want to know where I read that scene, because I enjoyed it.)
It's a very enjoyable book, and a quick, satisfying read. The main character is a wee bit too good to be true, but if you were a well-read, intelligent, 18-year-old kid who suddenly discovered the ability to teleport, what would it do to your personality? I liked his ingenuity and resourcefulness coupled with his naïveté (he didn't know you could get a copy of your birth certificate). I enjoyed his relationship with Millie (his girlfriend) and his simultaneous disregard for authority and deep caring for other people in need. (He'll rob a bank without much remorse, but gives several thousand dollars to a disabled homeless man he happens to see on the street.)
The only thing I found annoying was the pat ending where everything wraps up nicely, the government promises to mostly leave him alone, and the bad guys get what's coming to them. I mean, that's what I wanted as a reader . . . but it felt a little hurried. It felt like he didn't have to work hard enough for it.
As I said, though, this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, and I fully intend to get the others in the series and read them, as well. I'm glad I rediscovered Mr. Gould's work.(less)
Back in high school, my physics course was a complete joke. Our teacher was a football coach who was more interested in that than teaching us physics....moreBack in high school, my physics course was a complete joke. Our teacher was a football coach who was more interested in that than teaching us physics.
Then in college, I was forced to take Physics 101 and 103. I hated them with an undying passion. I didn't understand most of what the textbook was trying to tell me, the teachers were boring and monotonal...I had a real mental block about pretty much anything having to do with physics. I thought I was a hopeless case.
Then, a few years ago, I was browsing the "bargain books" bin at a Barnes & Noble in Birmingham, Alabama. And there it was. A Physics book. By Isaac Asimov.
It was $5. I bought it without hesitation and started reading it immediately in the book store while waiting on my friends to get done.
Not only did I understand every word Mr. Asimov wrote, I found that it all made perfect sense. It was as if a locked door had been blown off its hinges.
I avidly read the entire book cover-to-cover. Motion, sound, heat, light, magnetism, electricity, atomic structure...I understood it all. For the first time, my eyes didn't cross when the equations were given. Because Asimov explains the formulae. Explains how they were arrived at. Gives the history of the discoveries. Leads you along WITH the men and women who figured it all out.
Makes it make SENSE.
Because of this book. Because of Isaac Asimov's wonderful ability to write engagingly about topics that would put sugar-laden, hyperactive, caffeine-infused three-year-olds to sleep. I've read many books about physics, math, and such since then, and thanks to the foundations this book laid, I understood them.
If you can find a copy of this, get it. Check the bargain bins. Check used book stores. Check library sales.(less)
**spoiler alert** This story engaged me from the first paragraph all the way through to the last. It sucked me in, and I found myself wanting to read...more**spoiler alert** This story engaged me from the first paragraph all the way through to the last. It sucked me in, and I found myself wanting to read more.
I liked the main character, the automaton Mattie, but from the get-go, I either disliked or was ambivalent toward most of the other characters with the exception of Niobe and the soul-smoker.
With only one exception that I can think of, all the other characters in the book only wanted to use Mattie to further their own selfish goals. The gargoyles wanted her to find a cure for their affliction. Iolanda wanted Mattie's access to Loharri. Loharri created Mattie and wanted her to be a combination (sex) toy/companion/housekeeper. The soul smoker wanted her around because she was the only one he could talk to given that she was immune to the effects of his "profession." Beresta's ghost wanted Mattie to find her son, Sebastian. Niobe befriended Mattie because she was the only one who would talk to her, and then used her knowledge to gain favor with Iolanda.
Only Sebastian seemed to want nothing from Mattie, but he was disturbed or perhaps disgusted by what she wanted to give to him, and was driven away.
Mattie's emancipation was a cruel joke. She was emancipated in name only, but still remained a mere tool to be used by everyone in her life. Perhaps the cruelest twist of all was that her programming required her to return to her creator periodically even though she came to despise him.
In the end, Mattie got nothing in return for all that she did except for the gargoyles' (futile) attempts to find her key so she could be revived. But revived for what?
I'm sure I could go on about the metaphors, blatant and not, that are explored in this book. But I won't, because that's not why I enjoyed it.
As I said, I very much enjoyed the book in spite of what sounds like a very negative review above. The writing is very good, and I thought the world in which the story took place was interesting enough that I'd like to see more of it, but perhaps this microcosmic view is all we should see.
Because the story wasn't about plot/events. It wasn't about settings. It was about Mattie. And I liked her character. A lot.
I was at first disappointed by the ending, but now that I reflect on it, I'm glad Sedia didn't pander to the readers who only want 'happy' endings. The way this book ended was far more realistic, in my opinion, especially given the tone of the rest of the story. Sometimes, you don't get what you want OR what you need.
I couldn't care less about the politics or the other events that are going on in the background of the story. In that respect, this book reminds me a small bit of the movie "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," in which two minor characters from Hamlet wander around for our amusement while "Hamlet" takes place in the background. In the big picture of the political upheavals and the revolution going on, Mattie is a tiny speck of insignificance. But by focusing on her life and having her take center stage, Sedia relegates the important world events to mere background window dressing.
And I kind of like that. :)
This story will stick with me for a long time, I believe.(less)
In this universe, magic is language. So if you are unable to spell, all your magic is likely to be miscast, and who knows what kind of havoc that coul...moreIn this universe, magic is language. So if you are unable to spell, all your magic is likely to be miscast, and who knows what kind of havoc that could wreak? Poor Nicodemus Weal is a cacographer (by touching a written spell, he causes it to misspell), which means that unless he concentrates very hard on correct spelling, his magical spells don't always work as intended. From that simple premise, Charlton constructed a world, a magic system, and a plot that keeps the reader wanting more from the first page to the last. I found myself reading long past the time I should have gone to bed, and wishing I had bought the electronic version so I could read it surreptitiously on my phone at work instead of having to wait until I was at lunch or home to haul out the hardcover.
That being said, the writing itself has a few rough edges, but I'm not sure there's a debut novel around that doesn't have a few. Some of the exposition has a little bit of an "As you know, Bob..." feel, and more than once I was a little too aware that the author was telling me, the reader, what he wanted me to know when it didn't make perfect sense in the story for one character to tell another. But since two of the main characters are an instructor (Magister) and his student (apprentice), I was more than willing to forgive that because what I was learning was interesting. And honestly, if that's the only negative thing I can find to say about the book, it's ahead of a good number of others.
I appreciated the many language and writing puns scattered throughout the book while at the same time groaning at them. (See 'spelling' and 'misspelling' above.) Purple prose being the most egregious (literally purple), but others reared their heads from time to time. I do appreciate a good pun, but your mileage may vary. :)
As an aside, I was amused by the character agonizing over misspellings that he had caused and obsessing over the fact that "conscience" just had to be misspelled because it has letters that don't make sense. It is a funny scene, and intended to sort of lighten the mood. But then I realized. . .that must be what it's like for a person with dyslexia pretty much every day. It's nice when an author can make you laugh and teach you something at the same time.
The characters were nicely developed and didn't seem flat or cookie-cutter at all, in spite of the fact that for a 350-page novel, he has quite a few characters with not only speaking parts (who didn't all sound like each other or the author speaking by proxy), but POV chapters, as well. His villains are villainous without being Snidely Whiplash: mustache-twirling evil for the sake of being evil. Everyone has agendas, and all the agendas made sense, at least within the context of the story. Not everything was revealed about every character, but this is a good thing because it makes me eager to start the second book. The world itself...has me a bit confused, but I think I'm supposed to be at this point in the saga, so I don't find that frustrating. I just want to read more.
One thing I enjoyed in particular: In too many fantasy novels, the young protagonist who is Destined to Save the World or who is The One Who Is Prophesied is disbelieving or reluctant. "I can't possibly be He Who! I'm just a nobody!" Not Nicodemus. He's quite eager to be the One Who or the Destined because he seizes on a goal as soon as he realizes what it means if he is actually somebody instead of a nobody. I suspect that will not end well for him, but I'll wait patiently to find out.
There were some nice surprises as well, which I won't go into in detail so I don't have to mark this review as containing spoilers. Suffice it to say that the nature of Dierdre's problems, Simple John's backstory, and the nature of the Prime Language all surprised me, but shouldn't have, meaning that all the clues were right there on the page and as soon as I read the revelations, I thought, "Oh, right! That makes sense!" No doubt many readers picked up on some of it before I did, but for me, I felt the pacing and the timing of those revelations (and others) were very well done.
In summary, this is a good, solid debut novel, and I look forward to reading more by Blake Charlton.(less)
I read this book because later in the year I will be attending a workshop at which the author, Steven Brust, is an instructor. As a kind of game, I di...moreI read this book because later in the year I will be attending a workshop at which the author, Steven Brust, is an instructor. As a kind of game, I didn't read the book's summary/blurb. I wanted to let the story engage me on its own merits without knowing what it was about.
It took me a while to put together the clues. Not long, but if I had read "This is a novel about a vampire..." it would have taken away some of the fun of not knowing, of having to piece together the clues, of figuring things out.
The main character in this book is very well developed, and I am sorry that Agyar is a stand-alone novel, even though that is why I chose it in the first place. I'd like to read more about him. Some of the other characters are less three-dimensional, but they are depicted through the eyes of the main character. A predator.
I don't normally like books wherein the character acknowledges writing the very book that I am reading, addressing the act of writing and conjecturing about who might be reading it. But...this really worked for me, in this case. I wasn't put off by it in the least. Well, maybe a little at the very beginning, but I got over it. :)
This is a vampire novel. And yet, it is not a Vampire Novel. It is not soaked in seduction, sex, and blood, although those definitely play a part. But they are not the part. The story is about Jack/John Agyar and what he must do to overcome the difficulty he finds himself in. If that occasionally involves seduction, sex, and blood, that's because it's what he must do to live.
It is a violent story, but told from the viewpoint of the creature who must commit violence or die. He seems callous at times, vindictive and cruel at others, but tender and regretful as well. He is a man of some honor, but it's an odd kind of honor that's a bit horrifying at times.
I look forward to reading more of Brust's work.(less)
I bought this book originally because, as a wannabe writer trying to make my villains more believable, I thought it would help me understand...well, w...moreI bought this book originally because, as a wannabe writer trying to make my villains more believable, I thought it would help me understand...well, why they kill. What pushes a person to take another person's life.
What I learned is that all the clichés in books, movies, and TV shows are very wrong. You know the ones. He was born bad. She was a bad seed. He couldn't help it, something just made him kill all those people. She's not responsible for her actions.
Rhodes' explains Athens' theories that put all that aside and he shows how a violent offender is created, step by step. And make no bones about it, they are created, not born. And at each step along the way, there are choices made that take them down the path of violence. It's not a sudden thing. It's very gradual, and builds over many years. That's why you can have two siblings raised by the same parents in the same social situation, one of whom ends up in prison for murder and the other of whom doesn't. It's about choices. Decisions. Nothing forces a person to pick up a gun or knife or bat--or their fists and feet--and use them against another person. It's a choice.
He also covers how governments deliberately put soldiers through those steps systematically to turn their young citizens into killing machines, but then don't even attempt rehabilitation when they return from war, back to a world where violence is once again frowned on. Athens' interviews with Vietnam vets who were at My Lai and his interviews with murderers on death row are strikingly similar in many ways.
A fascinating read, and one that will stick with me. And I'm sure I'll refer back to it many times to re-familiarize myself with his theories as I develop characters for my stories who are capable of doing the things I need them to do.(less)
The Deacon Chalk series started out good and has remained so. In this second book, Chalk and his companion come across a bunch of guys brutally beatin...moreThe Deacon Chalk series started out good and has remained so. In this second book, Chalk and his companion come across a bunch of guys brutally beating a dog in a parking lot. Now, you know Chalk ain't gonna let something like that happen. Not in his city.
Only, he very nearly gets his ass handed to him. The people beating the dog to death? Lycanthropes. All predators. All big, all nasty, and all too happy to go up against Chalk in a battle for the hapless dog.
Who, of course, turns out to be a were-dog.
We have in this book an all-out battle for who gets to be the biggest, baddest were in Atlanta. And the stakes? The lives of pretty much everyone Chalk knows.
You can probably see where it's headed, of course. Once Chalk takes someone under his wing and promises to protect them, pretty much no known force can stop him.
Oh, they can try. But pain usually is the end result. Chalk's, his friends', large swaths of Atlanta's, the bad guys' . . .
I can't even tell you about the battle at the Warren because then I'd have to mention the were-t -- nope. Not gonna spoil it.(less)
The book is set in the near future; 2025, to be exact. The United States has fractured into several pieces after a war which we apparently lost. Techn...moreThe book is set in the near future; 2025, to be exact. The United States has fractured into several pieces after a war which we apparently lost. Technology, however, has marched on, and this novel is very firmly in the Cyberpunk genre, with which I'm not at all familiar, having only read one genre piece before now. One that I didn't really enjoy.
The book takes place over a four-day period (approximately; I'd check, but the book is at home and I'm not) in a combination of the cybernetic "Gestalt" and the real world, which often feels more alien--to me, at least--than the online world.
Dr. Catherine Farro--"Shroud," online--is a security expert who works for a large retail store chain based in Colorado, which is now a province of Canada. She spends most of her days floating in the hyper-saline solution in what amounts to a sensory deprivation tank, jacked directly into the network through an implanted connection in her skull. In her off-time, she is a soft, pale, 40-year old paraplegic. But online, she is respected...and perhaps feared. The world of security in this future is cutthroat and unapologetic. Script Kiddies trying to breach OmniMart's firewall security are as likely to be killed--brain-fried by Shroud and her team--as arrested. They knew the risks going in. Them's the breaks.
But one Friday, a concerted attack by an unbelievably fast, powerful intruder fries all but one of Shroud's team, literally scrambling their brains in a way she has never heard of before. And the brains of the security team of an upstream company, as well. That night, the same intruder takes out the night shifts, as well. She vows revenge and, having to immerse herself in the real world for the first time in a long while, she sets off on her quest to find and punish—permanently—the hacker who murdered her teams.
I'm not going to give any of the plot away. Suffice it to say that it is a good story, told well, and I'll not spoil anything else. What I've already said you could get from the blurb on the back cover or on the author's web site.
I enjoyed the book. It was really a page-turner. The plot pacing is well done and somewhat unrelenting, but interspersed with a necessarily sizable amount of exposition, which he does quite well. Only once or twice did I catch myself thinking about it; the exposition that was done meshed well with the storytelling and served to flesh out the world in which Shroud lives and works rather than being an infodump. That's hard to get just right, but I think Strickland does just that.
Another thing I really liked was the first-person POV. Again, this is often very difficult to get right, but he gets it just right. Shroud is an unreliable narrator, and we catch on pretty quickly that her perceptions of other people are a little off...but you're never quite sure. Maybe she's right and everyone is out to get her...or maybe she's a bit paranoid and she's imagining the whole thing. It is a true first-person narrative; the reader only knows what Shroud knows, and her perceptions color everything. You also find yourself wondering just how she got the way she is. And you're not disappointed--the author makes good on the promise of filling in the gaps as the story progresses.
The language took some getting used to. I don't mean that in a bad way; it's nothing like as hard as A Clockwork Orange, and there is a glossary of terms at the back if you get bogged down, but most of it is intuitive once you get into the story. I only had to reference the glossary three times before I got "into" the lingo and the pace and the style of narration and it didn't slow me down after that. But there is that initial few pages where you find yourself thinking, "What? Ice? Penguin? OSDeck? Gestalt? What the hell is he talking about?" But that's on purpose, I believe. The literary equivalent of jumping into the deep end of a cool swimming pool on a hot, summer day. Might as well get it over with; the sooner you immerse yourself in it, the faster you'll acclimatize. In a strange way, it also helps you sympathize with the feelings the character is experiencing at the same time.
The style of the language is another thing that I rather enjoyed. I thought it was a good approximation of what it's like to be in someone's head, listening to them interact with the world around them. Short, choppy sentences. Half-finished thoughts. Arguments with her inner self. Shut up! Why should I? Random passages from literary works interspersed with her subconscious repeating things others have said to her that resonated. I'm not doing a very good job of describing it; I'm making it sound messy, and it's not. It's very easy to follow because it's sort of how my own mind works. YMMV, of course.
So I guess what I'm saying is that I highly recommend the book. I enjoyed it, and it makes me want to re-try the cyberpunk genre. It can be done well.
Note: The summary below is for less than the first hundred pages of a 300-page book. I don't consider them spoilers, but if you're a stickler, don't r...moreNote: The summary below is for less than the first hundred pages of a 300-page book. I don't consider them spoilers, but if you're a stickler, don't read beyond this.
There's quite a lot to like about this book. The author, Stuart Jaffe, was unknown to me before I attended a small science fiction/fantasy con in Chattanooga, TN, in June of 2013. My friends and I met the author, spent some time with him, liked him, and I ended up buying two of his books because they sounded interesting. This is the first I have read. Note: The other author, Cameron Francis, is a magician, and all of the card "tricks" in the book are his. Jaffe and Cameron do a good job of showing card tricks without the use of cards. :)
The main character, Duncan Rose, starts out not very likable. He learned all about magic — especially card-handling techniques — from his great-grandfather, Pappy. But instead of using his skills to make an honest living as a stage magician, he cheats at cards. This backfires on him one night, and his partner in crime, Pancake, who also knows a little about cheating at cards, cheats the wrong people and nothing Duncan does to try to defuse the situation helps. Minor spoiler: (view spoiler)[Pancake ends up losing his hand to the Russian mob, and the men are told they have to come up with $20,000 before morning or worse things are going to befall them. (hide spoiler)]
Desperate, Duncan turns to his estranged family and gets no help. They're all tired of his dishonest lifestyle. As a last-ditch effort, he goes to the one person he can trust: Pappy.
Who turns him down.
In despair, Duncan decides that he is going to have to do the unthinkable: steal from Pappy. Pappy has kept a mysterious, elaborately decorated door closed in his apartment for years, warning Duncan again and again never to open it. But suddenly, whatever might be behind that door sounds like the solution to Duncan's problems. He opens the door and steps through.
And winds up outside a house in a small city in Pennsylvania. In 1934. He's wearing different clothes and finds less than five dollars in his pockets. He tries to convince himself it's all an elaborate illusion set up by Pappy, but quickly realizes that it's real. For whatever reason, the door is magic — the real thing — and he really is in 1934. His goal: to get back to 2013 and fix things.
He immediately falls back on his one real skill and finds a card game he can cheat at. He discovers he's not the only one pulling the same scam. He and the other magician, Vincent, team up and cheat some mobsters out of $100, which is a large sum of money in 1934.
Unfortunately, their boss figures it out and comes for Duncan. And makes him a deal: Duncan is to get himself into the local magic club (of which Vincent is the head honcho) and find out their secrets and relay everything he discovers to the mob boss "or else."
He soon discovers that everyone is after the same thing: a mysterious Vanishing Door act performed by a magician near the turn of the century. An act during which several people actually disappeared. Lucy has drawn a picture of the door, and it looks strangely familiar: a lot like the door in Pappy's apartment.
Vincent wants the door because he wants the secret of the trick. Duncan wants it because he believes it to be his ticket home to 2013. The mob boss wants it for the power he believes it will give him.
To complicate things, Duncan finds himself head over heels in love with Vincent's sister, Lucy, and is torn between leaving her in 1934 or bringing her with him back to 2013.
I won't give away the ending. Suffice it to say that the resolution was refreshing to me. Time travel stories generally have a number of problems, but Jaffe manages to thread that particular needle nicely, and finds a solution that didn't make me groan and roll my eyes.
The tension is kept high as Duncan must satisfy the mob boss while simultaneously gain the trust of Vincent and the other magicians in the magic club and not betray his growing love for Lucy, and hers for him. The pacing is fast, and you will be kept turning the pages not only to find out how — or whether — Duncan manages to find a solution to all of his problems, but how the love story between Lucy and Duncan turns out.
I enjoyed watching Duncan grow from a not-very-likable character to one that finds true love and tries to do the right thing.
The characters are believable, the time travel is nicely handled (although never explained, which I'm fine with), and the resolution is satisfying. Although I did (eventually) see the end coming, it has a certain elegance that I wasn't expecting from the trope used. (Is that mysterious enough?)
I would recommend the book to those who enjoy magic, time travel, "period pieces," mysteries, and love stories. It has aspects of all of them, and yet isn't purely any of them.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)