There are elements of traditional phantasy in this book. The world of Neveryon Delaney builds is a complex, intruguing place that combines varieties oThere are elements of traditional phantasy in this book. The world of Neveryon Delaney builds is a complex, intruguing place that combines varieties of geography with a vast diversity of human conditions – from the capital city of Kolhari which changes before our eyes (and through the eyes of several of its inhabitants), all the way to the Ulvayan islands, themselves the home of at least two distinct tribes of people. And there are dragons too.
Yet, apart from the unfamiliar place, Delaney does something amazing. This collection of five novellas reads more like an exploration into alternatives (reflections?) of human history, or even a possible (if lost) part of actual history. It fictionalizes momentous events, such as the invention of writing, or the introduction of money in a barter economy and traces the intricate and small-scale changes of such events that begin at the personal level but that, over time, lead to radical social overhaul.
This is my kind of story. At one level, we follow each tale and gradually develop a feel for each of the characters in the story. At another level entirely, we are treated to reflections on human nature, the meaning of life, political intrigue of the most astute and professional kind, and revelations about the nature of love and desire. And quite separately from all that, Delaney’s language is measured and thoughtful, his sentences alternatively sparkling with wit, or meandering through a complex maze, to express thoughts with clarity and vividness that is a true pleasure to anyone who appreciates well-crafted language.
To me, this volume offers above all a reflection on slavery as a human condition. Slavery is ubiquitous in each of the tales and forms the narrative arch along which the lives of the characters develop. Each of the tales can be read separately and it would stand on its own. However, taken in the sequence presented, they form a progression that provides depth and allows us to see the growth (or degeneration) of some characters, to experience wonder and triumph and sorrow with them. Gorgik, enslaved as a child and, by mere chance, brought to the palace in Kolhari as the pleasure slave of the Vizerine, eventually gains his freedom. We learn that he becomes rich. We would be tempted to think that this would conclude his tale – a kind of “rags-to-riches,” “slavery-to-freedom” narrative. But Delaney surprises us by tracing a deeper pattern in the soul of the former slave – an unconscious one, perhaps, but a pattern following a beautiful logic. First, he meets his future lover, Small Sarg, whom he originally buys as a slave. In the shortest of the five tales – and the one perhaps most fraught with portents – master and slave become lovers, and Delaney offers a startling reflection on desire and love. When Sarg questions Gorgik on the necessity to keep and use the slave’s collar (even if Gorgik agrees that they can alternate wearing it), Gorgik replies, “There are people I have met in my travels who cannot eat food unless it has been held long over fire; and there are others, like me, who cannot love without some mark of possession.” Later, in a different tale, Gorgik will elaborate, “We are both free men. For the boy the collar is symbolic – of our mutual affection, our mutual protection. For myself – it is sexual – a necessary part in the pattern that allows both action and orgasm to manifest themselves within the single circle of desire.” This middle tale is also the place in which Delaney comes closest to offering an emotional evaluation of a slave’s condition. “I am already dead,” Sarg says to his Master by way of explanation of his behavior. Coming as it does from the mouth of a mere boy, this statement, equating slavery with a form of death is perhaps the most poignant emotional climax of the book.
But it does not end there. For Gorgik and Sarg begin a war on slavery. This is the story reserved for the final tale in the book. Aside from the fact that Delaney creates an awesome allegory in which a gay couple (think closet, oppression, a form of slavery to social dogma) leads a rebellion to free others from oppression – and there is a great beauty in that (and parallels to the actual history of the establishment of the first Athenian democracy) – Delaney offers more condemnations of slavery here, from a different perspective. In imploring slaves to be free once he had removed the guards and opened the doors, we can hear the urgency in Small Sarg’s voice, “I want you to understand that you’re free and I want you to move. Fools, fools, don’t you know that to stay slaves is to stay fools?”
This then, it a book that begins simply but gradually grows into a full-throated condemnation of slavery and oppression. It accomplishes this while building a complex world and giving us intriguing glimpses of other human lives and conditions. In the process, it also demonstrates how power diminishes and corrupts. Yes, in the expected tradition of fantasy, there is an epic struggle between good and evil. But evil is not personalized here as some demonic individual. Rather, it is diffused, pervasive … almost difficult to identify. Delaney here (remember that this reads like a possible history) creates an uncomfortable parallel with contemporary society where the evils of the system (racial injustice or rigid class barriers) are diffused and seem impersonal. But in this parallel, we also see the value of personal choice, of personal action. Yes, an individual can change history. Yes, even a diffused and impersonal evil can be defeated by love and determination. I like this optimistic vision. I like it a lot. ...more
There is so much in this book, it is a wonder Ann Leckie managed to pack it all in a mere 380 pages. T**spoiler alert** Nothing short of spectacular.
There is so much in this book, it is a wonder Ann Leckie managed to pack it all in a mere 380 pages. The book felt a lot longer – not, mind you, because it is boring or slow-paced – but because of the way the author manages, almost imperceptibly, to integrate a variety of themes here that make this volume seem by turns a swash-buckling adventure, a cloak-and-dagger intrigue, a love story, and yes, a philosophical treatise. Few books come to mind that pack such a powerful punch for the relatively narrow circle of main characters that Leckie works with.
To me, the most powerful overarching theme is the human psyche’s incapacity to remain whole (wholesome?) in the wake of perpetrating acts of violence and cruelty. Yes, Anaander Mianaai, the seemingly all-powerful Lord of the Radch, believes that the defiance of Garsedd justifies a total annihilation of the entire civilization. But the price is her (his?) own sanity. She tries to become dissociated with this apocalyptic destruction and, in the process, develops a sort of multiple personality disorder. Of course, Mianaai does not admit to herself that this has happened… but her numerous cloned bodies take on different sides of the split personality and begin to wage a quiet – and deadly – war against each other. Listen, the very concept of this had me breaking in goosebumps once I realized what was happening. Hundreds… thousands of identical bodies of the Lord… with no way to know which side of the personality disorder each of them support. Anaander Mianaai, over three thousand years old, ruler of the all-powerful Radch… and fragmented into warring factions … with nobody around having a clue.
Then, of course, there is Justice of Toren. Both the ship and its One Esk Nineteen (I know, the terminology is involved but once you become familiar with it, it is really neat). The idea of a vast, powerful, ancient (2000+ years old) AI having multiple, formerly human bodies as its sensors and troops it directs with a single mind is as awesome as it is disturbing. The fact that Ann Leckie manages to convey what that looks and feels like from the perspective of the ship without, in the process, losing focus in the narrative is one of the real testaments to her power of expression. And again, the consequence of violence … when the ship is forced to kill one of its favorite lieutenants unjustly, the reaction is violent and unpredictable, as it is, in the end, heartbreaking. Breq, the last remnant of all that power, of that entire vast mind, the last repository of all the memories is the unlikely protagonist here… Unlikely, because as a former ancillary she is perhaps not expected to take initiative… she was, after all, a mere drone… It is in the improbable intersection of human shell and a vastly intelligent machine mind (AI) that Lecke finds humanity and finds it so poignantly as to make the actual humans in the novel seem, at times, like two-dimensional cartoon imagery.
The two storylines perfectly complement each other in providing background and detail and, when they combine about two-thirds of the way in, we are already in the midst of an interstellar adventure, thousands of years in the making. I simply do not understand critics who say the storyline is a) muddled (it isn’t! there is a vast difference between muddle and complexity) or b) slow-moving (if by slow-moving one means there is not enough violence or epic battles, I beg to object that even on that account the critics are merely wrong, because there is quite enough of that in the book, but also, that narrative does not have to be all big explosions to be engrossing or satisfying).
A word about the gender ambiguity. Yes, female pronouns are used throughout (with a few exceptions). However, I did not find this disorienting or see it as any sort of gimmickry. I found it liberating. Too often when I read fiction, foreknowledge of gender leads to certain expectations of behavior (handsome hero expected to go after beautiful girl etc.). Not knowing the gender of the characters in advance and discovering it only later allows for perceiving all those aspects of human relationships that often remain submerged in gender-defined sexual tension elsewhere. As a literary device this is brilliant. It is also very eye-opening.
In the end, psychological and philosophical depth aside, this is above all an adventure, and a love story. Leckie pulls it off masterfully. A well-deserved five stars. Looking forward to reading the next one. ...more
I wish to write this review before I read books 2 and 3 of this series -- in trying to assess this book on its own merits as opposed to seeing it as pI wish to write this review before I read books 2 and 3 of this series -- in trying to assess this book on its own merits as opposed to seeing it as part of the trilogy.
Suzanne Collins has managed to invoke some great literary classics -- like The Lord of the Flies, or Romeo and Juliet -- without approaching their complexity or, indeed, their depth. I can honestly say that the book is interesting, and at times fast-paced. Yet, in the end it has left me dissatisfied.
The main problem lies in the character of Katniss. The girl has already experienced loss and the book starts off really well in portraying her as the pillar of her family, living a hard and dangerous life to support them. When she volunteers in place of her sister at the Reaping, and right up to the end of the training for the Games, things go well. Katniss makes a hard choice and then her behavior is utterly believable as she agonizes over her role and her relationship to Peeta. Hence the two stars I am giving this book.
Unfortunately, things go downhill from there. Collins creates the premise of the Hunger Games in a pitiless way -- a fight to the death where only one winner is possible. If she had followed on that premise and followed it to its logical conclusion, this would have been a really interesting book. As it is, despite the emotional buildup, Katniss in the end does not have to make any really hard decisions. First, when the friendship with Rue develops, Collins adds tension to the plot. Here is this utterly adorable young girl, who helps Katniss, saving her life no less... and then there are the rules of the Games. Immediately we begin to anticipate a great tragedy - who will have to kill whom in the end? How can a friendship and alliance, how can a debt of life, be resolved in such a context? How can it? Well... it never is. Because, conveniently for Katniss, someone else kills Rue. Oh yes, there is grief and sorrow... and we expect that. But Katniss is spared a heart-wrenching decision, and, possibly, a soul-destroying action... well, whew! But, we tell ourselves, there is still Peeta ... Katniss faces a similar dilemma there... Peeta has helped her and her family in the past, and in fact helps her again in the course of the Games. So, there will be a similar test in the end. For only one can survive. Well, as it turns out, two can survive. Katniss acts courageously perhaps in contemplating a double suicide with Peeta in her successful bid to change the rules of the Games. In the end, none of her choices or decisions cost her anything... there is grief perhaps, but very little growth.
My second dissatisfaction is with the whole premise of the novel. I do not question the setup -- a future in which surviving districts renew their bondage to the Capitol every year in the bloody ritual of the Hunger Games. But this premise has implications. The first of these implications is that the Capitol -- the center -- is overwhelmingly strong. That it can crush rebellion easily and with no hesitation. This, however, appears to be at least questionable at the end of the book. For in making her bid to save both Peeta and herself, Katniss engages in an open act of rebellion... and she engages in it in front of the enormous audience of all districts who breathlessly follow the development of the games. So, I ask you... what would be the logical step for a tyranny that has been challenged so publicly? Um.. it turns out the tyranny curls up its tail and goes whimpering in a corner. But somehow we are supposed to believe, that this same tyranny is capable of forcing people to give up their children and watch them die horribly year after year in the Games? Believable? Not.
One other point. Many reviews of this book single out the violence in it as one of the main things to dislike. I disagree. Violence has its place as a tool of artistic expression. Look at Picasso's Guernica.. Look at films like "Straw Dogs," or "Natural Born Killers." Look at a classic book of fiction like The Lord of the Flies which must have been one of Collins' influences. Violence per se is not unacceptable... And Collins actually does make good use of it. Does it make you feel sick? Is it mind-numbing, depressing? Gruesome? Then that is the point. That is the world of Katniss. In the Lord of the Flies children kill each other too... but in the end, the adults come to save them from themselves. Here, it is the adults imposing the violence on children. So is violence something we are born with that can be eliminated in careful education and personal growth? Or are we the innocent savages in our natural state ... and a terribly violent society turns us into killers? Something to ponder, for sure.
I am thinking that books 2 and 3 will most probably see a successful revolution. For, in the logic of any authoritarian regime, Katniss will have to be killed if the regime is to survive, for she now represents a threat and a hope. So from there, a rebellion will probably follow and we will see liberty triumph... or something....more
Jim Butcher has done it again! As the penultimate volume of the Codex Alera cycle this book delivered on all fronts. Epic battles, love, betrayal... eJim Butcher has done it again! As the penultimate volume of the Codex Alera cycle this book delivered on all fronts. Epic battles, love, betrayal... everything is here and presented in Butcher's typical high-impact prose. A very very satisfying conclusion to the saga, tying up all loose ends... or did it? Something tells me Butcher may be revisiting Alera at some point....more
This is the best of the early volumes of the Wheel of Time. We follow the Dragon Reborn and Mat to a city in the Aiel Waste -- Rhuidean. Rand fulfillsThis is the best of the early volumes of the Wheel of Time. We follow the Dragon Reborn and Mat to a city in the Aiel Waste -- Rhuidean. Rand fulfills a prophesy and becomes the Car-a-carn -- the Chief of Chiefs for the Aiel. Mat encounters the snakelike aelfinn and the foxlike eelfinn -- beings who answer questions and grant wishes. Jordan weaves these wondrous fairy tale elements into the story making it ever more complex.
Yet, this is, above all, Perrin's book. The childhood friend of Rand -- one of the three young men who left Emond's Field in a flight for their lives in the first book of this saga -- returns home upon hearing that Emond's field is now threatened by armies of Trollocs. Coming home, Perrin, with Faile and the Ogier Loial, organize the defense of the entire Two Rivers. In one of the most masterful parts of this entire saga, Jordan tells the story of how a noble earns his name. Perrin returns to the place where he made his living as a blacksmith's apprentice to gradually earn the respect and love of all his people. His ability to command and his courage ultimately save the day in a most satisfying manner, earning him both the status of a hero, and the proverbial girl. Yes the hero gets the girl, but also a banner and a name... the legend of Perrin Goldeneyes is born.
This is probably one of the best books of the Wheel of Time saga... Rand, seeking confirmation for himself that he is indeed the Dragon Reborn, leavesThis is probably one of the best books of the Wheel of Time saga... Rand, seeking confirmation for himself that he is indeed the Dragon Reborn, leaves friends and guards behind as he travels overland to Tear where, according to prophecy, only the hand of the Dragon Reborn can touch The Sword That Is Not a Sword -- Callandor -- suspended in midair in the Heart of the Stone -- the great fortress of Tear.
Jordan here manages to draw on the Arthurian legend as well and weave it into his story. The Sword That Is Not a Sword is not Excalibur -- we find out it is a very powerful sa'angreal that can be used by men wielding the One Power. And yet the parallels are unmistakable -- drawing Callandor is a test of confirmation in the same way that drawing Excalibur out of the stone is a test of kingship. Even the fortress where Callandor is located -- the Stone of Tear is a symbolic bow to Arthurian lore. And, lest we forget, Rand, in The Shadow Rising (Book 4) does drive Callandor into the floor of the fortress, leaving it there as a reminder that we will return and reclaim it. Thus, at least for a while, Callandor does become almost exactly like Excalibur -- driven into the heart of the rock from where only Rand's hand -- the hand of the Dragon Reborn -- can draw it again.
Meanwhile, Mat is finally brought to Tar Valon and Healed of the taint of Shadar Logoth and separated from the vile dagger he brought out of that city in The Eye of the World. Moiraine and Perrin follow Rand and Perrin encounters Faile of Saldea -- a Hunter of the Horn destined to be the love of his life. In classical Jordan fashion, story lines intertwine and complement each other.... The characters are even more fully fleshed out and the adventure races on even as the hints of tragedy give this tale an ever darker tinge. ...more
Great sequel to the Eye of the World. The adventure continues at a fast pace with still more plotlines beginning to unfold. We encounter the SeanchanGreat sequel to the Eye of the World. The adventure continues at a fast pace with still more plotlines beginning to unfold. We encounter the Seanchan for the first time and the Black Ajah reveals itself. Rand battles Ishamael in the sky over Falme in fulfillment of prophecy... Jordan continues to weave intricate psychological profiles of his characters and hints at still other mysteries to come. Strongly recommended....more
I actually read this book a long time ago, but decided to re-read it because I want to finish the entire Wheel of Time saga this time. After Robert JoI actually read this book a long time ago, but decided to re-read it because I want to finish the entire Wheel of Time saga this time. After Robert Jordan passed away last year, the series will be wrapped up by a different author. Nevertheless, this was one of my favorite series before and, upon re-reading the first volume, I find that it remains undiminished after almost 10 years.
The book lays out in broad strokes a number of plot lines that I know are explored in much greater detail later on. While reading it this time, I sought parallels with other fantasy sagas, and was surprised to discover them. Jordan has apparently been influenced a lot by Tolkien. The beginning of the book especially, where three young men, living a rustic life in a tiny village (the Shire anyone?) flee for their lives after discovering that they are being sought by minions of the Dark One (the parallels with Sauron, from the Lord of the Rings are unmistakable) right down to the need to cross a river in the middle of the night by using a ferry are very strongly reminiscent of the first LOTR book, the Fellowship of the Ring.
Still, Jordan's world, despite some outward similarities to Tolkien's (like the Blight, a part of the world blighted by the influence of the Dark One, reminiscent of Mordor in LOTR, or the White Tower of Tar Valon, similar in more than one ways to the tower of Saruman) is based on its own mythology, especially the theme of recurring cycles in history and a neverending struggle between good and evil. And so, while Tolkien is, in a sense, eschathological, as with the destruction of the ring of power, Sauron himself is irretrievably destroyed, Jordan is Manichean, Zoroastrian even, in seeing the world as a constant struggle between good and evil. Fate plays a strong hand in human life, but so do personal choices, so do friendship and loyalty, and love.
In the course of the book we gradually discover that Rand al'Thor is the Dragon Reborn - chosen by Fate to lead a battle against the forces of darkness in this Age, this cycle of history. But he is far yet from being the hardened warrior he will become in later volumes. Here, he is barely out of childhood, struggling with issues of identity and love and ever yearning for the peace and quiet which, he comes to understand, are gone forever from his life. We find him resisting the attempts of the demonic Ba'alzamon to tempt him with offers of power or threats of pain and fiercely protective of his friends. The hardened warrior is not here yet, but the man of principle is. And our heart breaks for him when, at the end of the book he decides to leave his friends and the sweetheart of his youth asks him if he would go back home to his village. "No," he replies, "never home." Never home, because that would mean endangering everyone he grew up with, endangering the very place that is dear to his heart. And even though he wants to return more than anything, he knows that he never can.
This wonderful beginning of the saga holds enourmous promise for the other books in the series. Fantasy does not get much better than this....more
This is the conclusion of the Otori saga. It has left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, this book is just as good as the rest of the saga in termsThis is the conclusion of the Otori saga. It has left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, this book is just as good as the rest of the saga in terms of intrigue, sudden twists, even battles on an epic scale.
However, I really dislike the representation of people as slaves to prophesy or destiny. What makes science fiction and fantasy works like "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter" great is that while destiny and/or prophesy plays a role, we are always reminded that our path is the inevitable product of our choices over which we have control. And so the Emperor Palpitine may sound like the voice of doom when he tells Luke in the "Return of the Jedi" that Luke's turning to the dark side "...is unavoidable. It is your destiny." And then Luke proves him wrong anyway.
Now, the Otori saga started well. It the mythical tradition of some of the greatest fantasy works, there was a prophesy. And then Otori Takeo does not simply obsess and agonize over the meaning of the prophesy -- we see that in the best examples of fantasy literature. No, he actually goes out of his way, especially in this last installment of the saga, to fulfill a dark prophesy concerning his own death. Not my cup of tea....more
The third book in the Rama series and, so far, the least exciting one. While previous installments in the series did a good job of integrating futureThe third book in the Rama series and, so far, the least exciting one. While previous installments in the series did a good job of integrating future history and even some social science into the narrative, this attempt fails miserably here. The parts of the book that deal with the social evolution of a spacefaring colony of humans are so boring as to be almost unreadable. Much of the excitement and wonder of the earlier books is still here but it is now stifled by a tortured exploration of human agressiveness and irrationality. Well, hopefully the last book which I still have to read (Rama Revealed) will be able to revive the story....more