Fun world-building, straightforward plot, interesting battles. The writing isn't great and the author is pretty hamfisted with some weird vision of AmFun world-building, straightforward plot, interesting battles. The writing isn't great and the author is pretty hamfisted with some weird vision of American politics and a heavy-handed gun rights metaphor ... Half the conversations read like "liberals want to take your guns, but then you won't be able to defend yourself from giant demon mobsters!"
The politics are sort of an odd headache pasted onto something that otherwise is a straightforward escapist book....more
I "read" this as an audiobook, and the voice performance really made it. A lot of the writing was pulpy and frankly a bit cliche, but the voice actingI "read" this as an audiobook, and the voice performance really made it. A lot of the writing was pulpy and frankly a bit cliche, but the voice acting of Bronson Pinchot gave the characters just enough depth to keep them compelling.
The world building is the great strength - this is totally an adventure romp about how magic works in this world. Combat scenes are frequent and larger than life, pretty much without exception. There's a teaser thread in the story about an upcoming Big Bad for sequels (reminiscent of Jim Butcher's work in Dresden Files).
The only smudge on what could've been really interesting retcon US history is that the author's occasional political commentary is ... well, don't read this for any political commentary. Basically you're working with Die Hard rules: being a big tough guy or a dame in a slinky dress is pretty much the height of human moral achievement here, and then you go fight for your friends because no government is worth fighting for.
Still, that's probably unfair sour grapes for a book that delivers on what it promises: magical noir stories. Come to think of it, there was even a pirates vs ninjas fight.
I'll definitely be doing the audiobook of the sequels....more
This had been recommended to me by a variety of sources over the years, and was worth every recommendation. Simplest synopsis: in 201(Spoilers below)
This had been recommended to me by a variety of sources over the years, and was worth every recommendation. Simplest synopsis: in 2019, an outpost picks up a radio signal from intelligent life near Alpha Centauri; Jesuits quietly send a mission to greet them; the party encounters joys and challenges through their voyage; intense events within the experience of encounter both enrapture and profoundly afflict members of the party. Along the way, author Mary Doria Russell explores what it means to have a soul damaged and healed.
There are deeper books, and some of the most shocking events taken up in this text hit on a topic that has emerged somewhat from the shadows since the 1990s, when it was released -- sexual violence -- in a way that might make them less shocking than they were before "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was a bestseller or Jessica Jones was a popular Netflix series (though when this book gets potent, it gets potent).
But the way Russell uses the conventions and possibilities of science fiction to tell a slice-of-life story about human love and connection is masterful, and against this backdrop of characters worth caring about, she sets up the kind of philosophical conversations that are at the heart of science fiction's best thought experiments, AND questions of faith and searching grounded in a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the religious life of her group (mostly Jesuits).
Think, if I might dare say it, Marilynne Robinson meets Michael Crichton.
The book also has a light heart and cheerful humor that come through clearly. The science fiction finds a balance point between "science" and "fiction" that allows the story to move along, but with some clear thought working out the future world's capacities, and procedural vignettes about who figures out which solutions that are along the lines of The Martian or Apollo 13, though in less detail. And -- throughout -- the characters are well-developed such that we never lose sight of the fact that it's PEOPLE doing these things.
The book also has a great convention of splitting the story between two timeframes: before the mission to Alpha Centauri and after the return of one of the protagonists. This does unapologetically good work creating suspense, and it offers the reader a frequent opportunity to guess or anticipate what the characters haven't put together yet. It's a dash of mystery novel mechanics that works really well here.
Five stars, and I'll definitely get to the sequel sometime soon. Well worth reading for many kinds of readers....more
This story has many tender moments and an easy beauty. It was an easy "read" (though I "read" it as an audiobook), and offers a number of thought provThis story has many tender moments and an easy beauty. It was an easy "read" (though I "read" it as an audiobook), and offers a number of thought provoking moments as to who it is we walk past.
I often wished for a bit of a more equal perspective, and there are places where the author's privilege is discomfiting and seems to occlude the depth of what's happening, but the story stands on its own regardless.
The final chapters offered some significant resolution around the inequality of perspectives, too, as we hear about Maurice's adulthood and a litany of lessons the author felt she learned from him in her turn....more
I "read" this as an audiobook, and the reader (Simon Vance) was also the reader when Stieg Larsson was living and writing the series, which added a niI "read" this as an audiobook, and the reader (Simon Vance) was also the reader when Stieg Larsson was living and writing the series, which added a nice continuity (Larsson's estate allowed the series to continue after a significant process that ultimately selected David Lagercrantz to continue the characters).
Lagercrantz has kept a number of strong themes: for example, the problems when a government's desire for authority and order is pitted against the rights of individuals, and the role of both the vulnerabilities and the gifts of special needs youth in society.
There were some places where Lagercrantz seemed to fall just short of the richness of Larsson's writing, and others that matched so well it almost felt that it was pulling away into parody. But by and large, it "felt like" a Millennium book, and Blomqvist felt like David Blomqvist. Salander seemed the least well-fit to her previous self, I think partly because few passages spent the kind of time dwelling in her slightly alienated personal processes and routines -- the homage to her junk food notwithstanding. Instead, Lisbeth comes off a bit larger than life, capable of super heroics. We lose a layer of the character's vulnerability, and she almost becomes a piece of scenery, rather than one of the richest consistent encounters of the story.
That said, her actions were believable, and in line with who she had always been, even if it didn't feel that we were able to peak behind the curtain as far.
The plot seemed less layered as well -- a bit too much "Hacker-Ex-Machina" to move things along, and each piece of information is more or less dissected as it arrives, rather than Larsson's slower reveal of how these pieces we've been looking at for some time fit together.
All of those nitpicks aside, however, I felt myself transported back to Sweden and the lives of these familiar characters, and was glad for the time to romp along with them a second time. And those nitpicks largely have to do with degree, rather than substance, so one hopes that subsequent novels will only serve to deepen and enrich them.
The book certainly sets up the clear continuation of a series, and introduces a new character or two that ought to be fun to follow. I'll happily continue to read the Millennium series, and I think Lagercrantz does it justice!
I was a bit nervous about the writing in the early chapters, but this landed really well, and had the depth of characters and relationships I've comeI was a bit nervous about the writing in the early chapters, but this landed really well, and had the depth of characters and relationships I've come to expect from Carey, including consequences that seem realistic and significant from the choices they make.
As a capstone to the trilogy, I'd say that the earliest quarter of the book seemed like some of the roughest stuff for me. And there were a few exchanges between Daisy and one of the principal antagonists that I wasn't sure seemed legitimate -- he gave a lot of expository intel away for free to her outraged demanding questions. But for all of that, the book took off well and the major story arcs wove together well. I loved the Night Hag case as well. The concluding sequences were very well done and the denouement was a strong wrap-up, including one fairly fun book-end.
The audiobook version was solid as well, and I've enjoyed Johanna Parker's voicing of the characters. I'd be glad to hear from her again.
All in all, the trilogy was a good romp through a fun world, and delightful in its "slice of life" approach to some old standards of love triangles, paranormal romance, and world-threatening fantasy arcs. The audiobook kept me good company at the gym and frequently had me chuckling out loud on the treadmill, and I'm sorry it's over.
And without spoiling it, I will say that this probably had one of the most fun and creative "Chekov's Gun" foreshadows of anything I've read!...more
I've read this several times now, and there are a number of things that make it great.
The first is simply the premise: it seriously takes up the questI've read this several times now, and there are a number of things that make it great.
The first is simply the premise: it seriously takes up the question: if superheroes with godlike powers really did live on our world, what might the consequences be -- for them, for normal human beings, and for the planet.
The tragedies and disasters it makes note of are well thought-out, and the cast of characters make sense as a continuation of the hopes, dreams and fears of the Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and others that we know from other stories.
The art is appropriately frenetic -- it puts us in the perspective of someone trying to make sense of the frenzy of battles and the changing cast of heroes and villains. The more realistic look pulls away from the golden age comic myth of heroes that only add gentle healing touches by removing villains through redemptive/regenerative violence, and grounds us in the question: What IF they were real, though?
The religious layer of apocalyptic revelation isn't terribly deep, but I'd say it's used appropriately: what is a human response to the terrible scope of possibility we've begun to see emerge from more-than-human figures, whether they be the fascist politicians of the early 1900s (not that the 20th century had a monopoly on that philosophy), or the scientists whose curiosity and insight allows them to build weapons that can kill millions in a population in an instant, or the nihilists and anarchists who reject any premise of constructive human community because they've seen too many cracks in the way our human communities are constructed, and therefore do violence on whatever scale they can reach.
These are topics that we confront everyday, of course, and this "comic" is a serious engagement of them, doing what fantasy does at its deepest: holding up a magnifying mirror to our own nature, so we can wrestle through the ways our choices play out on ourselves and one another.
Without going into the details, the denouement and epilogue have a warmth to them, even as the state of affairs is left uneasy -- a reminder to us that our victories are always achieved in part when we commit to an ongoing process of construction and care.
This book works a core thought that practiced vulnerability -- "daring greatly" -- allows for real relationship and shame-free living. It connects toThis book works a core thought that practiced vulnerability -- "daring greatly" -- allows for real relationship and shame-free living. It connects to other work that Brené Brown has done around wholeheartedness, which she briefly reviews. The title comes from a Roosevelt quote about how it is "Not the critic who counts, but the one in the arena," etc., which I'm sympathetic to (in spite -- or perhaps because of -- eight years' academic training on how to be a really focused critic!).
There are a handful of times when Brown defines a thought or a theory, most of which are helpful, at least as thought experiments, and she offers a number of small stories and examples to illustrate points, many of which I found myself nodding along with. I didn't always like the metaphors (I appreciate language of "old tapes playing" more than Brown's "shame gremlins," etc.), but her points come through strong and clear, and I'm impressed by her research, which lines up with my own sense of healthy interpersonal dynamics.
I also found the appendix about method fascinating, and it piqued my curiosity about "Grounded Theory Research," which I think may be one way in which I've been accidentally practicing ministry already in my life, and seems worth considering more directly.
I appreciated the book's topic and points, and I can imagine drawing some connections to spirituality. Not sure if I'd recommend this particular volume to friends, but it got me interested in other Brené Brown work, and I plan to check out her "Gifts of Imperfection," which seems a bit more technical and detailed....more