These days it seems many SF/F writers are writing for each other rather than the average reader. As a result, they feel compelled to create hugely elaThese days it seems many SF/F writers are writing for each other rather than the average reader. As a result, they feel compelled to create hugely elaborate worlds full of so many plot threads one needs Cliff Notes to keep everything straight. This book is a refreshing change—a fascinatingly complex yet easily read tale of a young woman caught up in an ages-old battle.
I make not secret of the fact I like fully developed characters. There are plenty of those here. I also have no patience with the what seems to be the current cult of despair and hopelessness that results in authors' seeming need to kill off characters they've gone to great pains to ensure we've become engaged with. To me, that's nothing but a reverse version of the old pulp tales where everybody survives except the villain. Unlike those stories, this one is a delicate balance of conflict and resolution that never tips too far in the direction of either loss or gain. As a result, one has to keep reading.
It's that same complex balance, though, that makes it hard to discuss the book without spoilers, which to me is the mark of a superbly written book. So, you'll just have to read it for yourself. ...more
I confess: I’m something of an iconoclast when it comes to books everyone raves about. When The Lovely Bones was on the best-seller lists forever, I fI confess: I’m something of an iconoclast when it comes to books everyone raves about. When The Lovely Bones was on the best-seller lists forever, I finally broke down and read it--and wasn't terribly impressed. Ditto for the current favorite The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. So, when this series by Suzanne Collins was being hailed with more gusto than a Superbowl winner, I eventually put the first volume on my TBR list, not terribly sanguine that my 0 for 2 record might be broken.
I'm now 0 for 3.
Don't get me wrong. The Hunger Games has a good, solid adventure story with a strong young heroine, which is rare in post-apocalyptic literature. Usually, women are relegated to what is perceived as their “natural state,” dependent on their menfolk for protection and sustenance. The world in which 16-year-old Katniss lives is fairly standard for the genre—environmental catastrophe leads to a semi-feudal society where the rulers wallow in luxury and high-tech while the workers who provide for them starve.
Although the action portions of the book kept me turning pages, I was still disappointed that I found the characterization somewhat flat, especially with regard to the two main male characters: Katniss’s hunting partner Gale and Peeta, the young man chosen as her companion tribute for the eponymous Hunger Games. Too often, I got the sense they were there mainly to provide an emotional conflict for Katniss to deal with rather than occupying essential places in the narrative.
Katniss, too, tends to lack emotional depth except when it’s necessary to advance the plot. Part of this, I suspect, arises from the fact this is the first book in a trilogy, and Ms. Collins intends to make Katniss’s emotional development one of the threads that carries through the series. However, this results in Katniss being something of a stock character for much of the book, and she deserves better.
So do the others, and Ms. Collins clearly has the skill to invest depth of character with a few well-chosen words, which makes the shortfall of same doubly frustrating. The tribute child Rue, Katniss’s mother and sister--ironically, secondary characters fare better than the main ones, hinting at emotional and psychological depths that just aren’t there in Katniss and her male friends.
That said, The Hunger Games should be recommended to and discussed with young readers, in part because it’s an excellent gateway to more complex works like Brave New World and 1984, and in particular the hard-to-find Sinclair Lewis novel It Can’t Happen Here. If that's too big a jump, there's always David Brin's The Postman, Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s, A Canticle for Leibowitz or Joan Upton Hall's Arturo el Rey.
The Hunger Games is entertaining and provokes consideration of the consequences of both abuse of power and surrender to oppression. For readers both young and not-so who don't ingest a lot of speculative fiction, it will more than satisfy....more
Michael Bishop was the special guest of honor will very science-fiction convention I cheered in August, so in preparation for meeting him, I scouted oMichael Bishop was the special guest of honor will very science-fiction convention I cheered in August, so in preparation for meeting him, I scouted out a number of his books, including this one. I think this one may be my favorite.
Ask yourself what would happen if a supposedly extinct hominid was suddenly discovered to be not so extinct. That's the underlying premise of this book. What sets it off from the usual run is that the narrator is one of the more unlikable individuals are likely to encounter. He's smug, opinionated and convinced that he knows everything that needs to be known–that is, everything that he's interested in. He also tends to hang onto situations and individuals long after anybody with common sense would've given up and moved on.
In other words, easy retaining enough that you keep reading, not just because it's a great story beautifully written, but, at least in my case, because I kept hoping to see him get his comeuppance. Which he does, in a way, but in the end this book is the story of a truly noble savage whose savagery turns out to be not as bad as that of the civilized human beings among whom he finds himself.
Ancient of Days is out-of-print, which is a shame–perhaps Mr. Bishop will find some way to fix that–but if you can manage to lay hands on a copy, be prepared to be entertained in a delightful and thought-provoking manner....more
I have to confess that, with rare exceptions, I find it very difficult to determine The fascination with literary fiction. Maybe it's because I'm partI have to confess that, with rare exceptions, I find it very difficult to determine The fascination with literary fiction. Maybe it's because I'm particularly partial to. Powerful multidimensional characters and strong plots, neither of which seem to be of concern in many literary novels.
I wish I could say that Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova was one of those rare exceptions. It wasn't. In fact, like many of the literary novels I've read, it seems to be a short story with aspirations. The actual plot resolution takes place in the last 20 or 30 pages, and what comes before that is the the author introducing various characters and allowing them to ramble on about a lot of things that, while interesting, really don't do anything to advance the plot.
I also notice that literary novelists are allowed to get away with things that genre novelists would be raked over the coals for. They seem to be permitted to paint themselves into corners and then call up the deus ex machina to get them out of it. In this case, one is expected to believe that art experts have apparently been blind and stupid for more than 100 years with regard to a particular painting. Even if one accepts that there is a bias against women in art, I still found it hard to believe that, given the woman artist in question's body of work available comparison say this and the now nearly half a decade of feminism, the pivotal plot point of this novel had been uncovered.
This is not to say that Ms. Kostova is not an excellent writer. She knows the tools of the writers trade and uses them skillfully. It's simply that, for me, there isn't enough story here for a full-length novel, so one is forced to wade through lengthy personal memoirs and back story just to get to the point. In essence, these mini autobiographies simply provide too much information about things we've already been informed of.
To be fair, the final outcome of the main narrator's exploration of why the pivotal character, also an artist, has become obsessed with a particular image of the woman is interesting and fun. I'm just not convinced we needed an entire novel to get to it....more
I'm contrary. When everyone raves about a book I'm likely to avoid reading it because I tend to be disappointed. This one was no different. I'm stillI'm contrary. When everyone raves about a book I'm likely to avoid reading it because I tend to be disappointed. This one was no different. I'm still not sure what all the furor is about. Is it the character of Lisbeth Salander?
My first problem arose from the initial premise, which is that an ethical journalist of no little experience, who has criticized his colleagues in the financial world for years for taking corporate PR at face value, suddenly abandons all of his own ethics and writes an "expose" of a major conglomerate based on nothing but the unsupported word of one person and some halfhearted investigating he does on his own.
The next problem was that the executive editor of the magazine he helped found published unsupported the material in total contradiction to the magazine's own policies.
In other words, the entire premise seemed contrived to put Blomqvist in the necessary place that he would need to accept the offer to investigate the fate of the missing Harriet.
Oh, don't get me wrong--it's a good enough story. But it's also completely dependent on Lisbeth's hacker skills and lack of ethical objections to doing whatever she thinks needs to be done, which to me makes her something of a deus ex machina. Just when Mikael Blomqvist runs out of clues, she wanders in and fixes everything. Where's the fun in that?
So, I've read it. Won't be reading the other two....more
I've been following this series all along--even caught the movie once. This one, while the writing is certainly up to Mr. Koontz's standards, isn't fiI've been following this series all along--even caught the movie once. This one, while the writing is certainly up to Mr. Koontz's standards, isn't finished. It's so clearly the first in a new series, one that he may not want to spend too much time on when he has other, more important books to write. So, nothing much really happens, other than setting up for the next volume. Disappointing....more
Ordinarily, I'm a huge Jasper Fforde fan, and I looked forward to reading this book. However, after the first fifty pages or so I felt more and more aOrdinarily, I'm a huge Jasper Fforde fan, and I looked forward to reading this book. However, after the first fifty pages or so I felt more and more as if the author had lost interest in the whole project and was basically going through the motions. The clever references to literature and other cultural phenomena were there, but the story lacked enthusiasm, and I ended up with a dreadful feeling of deja vu.
Dan Brown has achieved what every writer of fiction, if he or she is honest, both desires and envies. He managed, with The DaVinci Code, to stir up coDan Brown has achieved what every writer of fiction, if he or she is honest, both desires and envies. He managed, with The DaVinci Code, to stir up controversy and lawsuits that were covered by the press at great length, driving sales into the stratosphere.
That Mr. Brown is a moderately talented writer and that his book had nothing to distinguish it other than a controversial theme and breakneck pacing mattered not a bit. People raved about what a great book it was.
It wasn’t. Neither is this one. In fact, The Lost Symbol is essentially The DaVinci Code rewritten to encompass a new topic--Freemasonry in American history--and a new location, Washington DC. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same tale, with the same stock characters.
Let me be clear. I’m aware there are thousands, if not millions, of people who consider Mr. Brown and his works to be the superb reading material. I don’t happen to be among them, because I prefer my plots have some basis in reality and the characters who deal with them (a) be interesting and three-dimensional and (b) not pause in the middle of a hair-raising situation to expound on some academic/esoteric topic because that information is the only thing driving the plot. That Mr. Brown’s villain, in this case, might have been extracted from any of a dozen SyFy Channel B-movies doesn’t help.
So, if you can put up with the mind-numbing lectures on Freemasonry, American history and architecture, you’ll probably have a fairly good time reading this latest adventure. On the other hand, there’s a new Dean Koontz out, and Stephen King’s Under the Dome, which I’ll be discussing as soon as I get through it....more
The challenge with trying to review a book by the inimitable Terry Pratchett is finding something to say that hasn’t already been said. The man’s unquThe challenge with trying to review a book by the inimitable Terry Pratchett is finding something to say that hasn’t already been said. The man’s unquestionable skill as a writer and the extensive body of his work makes it all but impossible to say anything about a new addition that hasn’t already been said—often.
I had the pleasure of receiving an advance copy of the newest Pratchett, Unseen Academicals, from the publisher, Harper. And trust me, it was very much a pleasure because once again Mr. Pratchett has cast his sharp eye and even sharper critical skills on two cultural phenomena that cry out for both--organized sports and the groves of academe.
Frequent visitors to Discworld are familiar with Unseen University, where the best of the world’s wizards, warlocks, sorcerers and magicians impart their wisdom whenever unable to avoid doing so and occupy the remainder of their time ensuring they do not suffer from malnutrition or lack of beverages suitable to accompany their comestibles.
In the mean streets of Ankh-Morpork, meanwhile, the citizenry engages in what passes for regular games of foot-the-ball, a game of long standing which leaves few of its players in the same position. In fact, football, as played in Ankh-Morpork, is essentially a gang war with cheerleaders.
It would seem these two societies would never have occasion to meet, but that’s not how Mr. Pratchett works. No, in Unseen Academicals, the faculty of UU are informed their steady supply of dining pleasure is based on an endowment that requires the university engage in a sports competition at least once every twenty years or lose their funding. And the twenty years since the last engagement are just about up.
The quartet whom we follow through the madness that follows are an engaging and eclectic group: Trevor Lively, whose late father was the last man to score four times in a game--and was killed in the process; Nutt, an alleged goblin who works with Trevor in the cellars of UU as a candle-dripper; Glenda Silverbean, the supervisor of the UU Night Kitchen, and her beautiful if not terribly bright neighbor, Juliet Stollop.
Many writers in the satirical vein would have left Juliet as she first appears, which is as someone for whom the term “dumb blonde” is high praise.
“Juliet was still reading as they waited for the horse bus. Such sudden devotion to a printed page worried Glenda. The last thing she wanted was to see her friend getting ideas in her head. There was such a lot of room in there for them to bounce around and do damage.”
Reading that might incline the reader to judge Glenda harshly, but that would be leaping to conclusions. Glenda is the kind of earth-mother character many either have in their family or wish they did--the steady-minded, practical, efficient woman who may not heap praise on your head but will always be there to bandage the hurts and fight for justice when the world turns against you. In her view, she’s not judgmental but clear-sighted, seeing both the virtues and flaws in those she loves.
“She didn’t have a career; they were for people who couldn’t hold down jobs.”
The pivotal character, however, is Nutt. He is a mystery, a creature clearly not human placed into service at the university by powerful people for reasons even he doesn’t seem to understand. It would seem that being a pivot is precisely why he’s there, not just to drive the story, with all its many threads, but to bring about the growth of those who come to care about him despite his differences.
“He was good at liking people. When you clearly liked people, they were slightly more inclined to like you. Every little helped.”
Nutt is the icon of the underlying lesson of Unseen Academicals. All of the varied threads and subthreads focus on the simple yet hard to implement idea that judging people on their surface appearance--whether it be Nutt or Juliet or even the seemingly “normal” Trev and Glenda, is shortsighted. In a world where people are deemed threatening solely on the basis of the color of their skin or their country of origin or their religious beliefs, this book warns that we risk depriving ourselves and our world of not just the wonderful uniqueness of the individual but also of any contributions they might make to society as a whole.
However, another lesson lurks in the alleys of Ankh-Morpork and the labyrinthine halls of Unseen U. That lesson is that sometimes what we tell ourselves is practicality is, in fact, fear of stepping beyond our comfort zone to see just what we, and those we care about, are capable of. If we trust and believe in ourselves, if we step beyond our self-imposed limits, we may just discover there really are no limits to what we can achieve....more
Perhaps if I'd read this book before all the hype that made it a bestseller, I might have enjoyed it more. As it is, I confess that I had high expectaPerhaps if I'd read this book before all the hype that made it a bestseller, I might have enjoyed it more. As it is, I confess that I had high expectations that weren't met.
It may be that, because I'm an avid speculative fiction fan, and have been reading ghost stories (both true and fictional) since pre-adolescence, I didn't find the trope of the murdered girl haunting her family to be terribly original. In fact, for a truly haunting story of murder and spirits seeking justice, I recommend tracking down a copy of Dorothy Macardle's classic THE UNINVITED, a book I wish I could bring back in print.
On the other hand, those not as immersed in spooks as I am may, in fact, consider this a superb book and the premise engrossing. It's differences of opinion, as Mark Twain once wisely said, that make horse races, and horse races are exciting....more