It was hard to believe that I had any problems with Leviathan Wakes after reading this fantastic sophomore followup. I don’t usually come across seconIt was hard to believe that I had any problems with Leviathan Wakes after reading this fantastic sophomore followup. I don’t usually come across second novels that I enjoy so much more than the first, but Caliban’s War is definitely an exception. Where the first novel seemed to lose control of itself about halfway through, the second is as concise as a tight beam. The plot is more focused, the characters have clear goals and the action is fast and splendid. The blurb of praise on the cover of these novels saying that they’re as close to a feature film as you’ll get in book form couldn’t be more correct. This is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in a long time.
Looking back on Leviathan Wakes, I think if I were to read it again now I’d enjoy it much more now, even though my original complaints still stand. The things I didn’t like about the first book are made better here. Caliban’s War also has more POV characters than Leviathan (four, instead of two) and the characters are much more enjoyable. Well, a couple of them are anyway.
Holden - Our primary protagonist returned from book one. If this series had a single main character, Holden would be it. I honestly didn’t like Holden too much as a character in Leviathan Wakes. He always acts on impulse and does what he feels is right despite the consequences. He still is very much the same, but he’s learned from his past mistakes (as has his crew) so now at least he’s a bit more conscious of when he’s about to destroy humanity. Despite this annoying character flaw, James Holden is pretty enjoyable, more so now than book one. He’s the dumb, lovable captain who wants to do right by his crew.
Prax - Praxadike Meng is a scientist forced into exile as his life’s work is destroyed by war. In the midst of this war, he loses his daughter. He then meets James Holden who vows to help him get his daughter back and not only because it’s the right thing to do. His daughter may have been the unwilling participant in certain studies involving a certain alien substance we’ve seen before. And this is where the primary plot of Caliban’s War begins. Aside from his necessity to the story, Prax is a rather annoying character. Like Holden, he’s prone to act without thinking and unlike Holden, he doesn’t have a military background so his actions tend to be not only poorly planned but dangerous as well. I understand his character is meant to be this way, and the fact that I continually find myself frustrated with what he’s doing just means he’s well written.
Bobbie - If Prax could have a polar opposite character, it would be Bobbie. Bobbie is a bad ass Martian Marine with, wait for it... power armor. And not just the boring old power armor from the Fallout games. With this armor, she can move with incredible speed, fight with incredible strength and move about in any environment, including vacuum. Now this all might sound fun but you’re probably thinking, “well that doesn’t sound too interesting. She could just kick anyone’s ass right?” Well, sort of. But still, she’s a fantastic character. As a Martian who’s known nothing but war and has only ever lived under domes in air restricted environments, she finds herself on Earth, a planet of vast openness and blue skies, drawn into a political scheme she was never prepared for. As great of a character as she is, she’s only runner up for favorite character in Caliban’s War.
Avarasala - Avarasala is a politician on Earth (I can’t remember precisely what position she holds and I’m too lazy to dig the book back out of my closet) and is my favorite character of this story. She’s a grandma with a potty mouth and a scheming mastermind. She has my favorite dialogue of the book and I found myself laughing quite often while reading her chapters. Like Varys in the Ice and Fire books, she’s got eyes and ears everywhere and seems to know almost everything going on throughout the system. While she definitely is keeping tabs on Holden and his shenanigans, what really concerns her is what’s happening on Venus since the protomolecule decided to make it’s home there.
As you can guess, all of these characters get tied up in the crazy web of intrigue and war that is the fallout of the protomolecule. These characters all work fantastically with one another, even if they hate each other, which is often the case.
As for the action, this may be a contender for best action in any sci-fi book for me. And it’s not just the scope of the action, or the frequency of it that causes me to remember it so well. It’s how the characters see and describe it and the way it pulled me in and feel like I was there. Without giving away too much, there is a sequence where a character is fleeing from point A to point B on the surface of a moon while above him he sees a panorama of countless ships locked in battle against the backdrop of Jupiter. The imagery conjured here helped me visualize it with the clarity of a film. My brain could even put a soundtrack to it. I find the action sequences of many sci-fi novels disappointing because they are lacking that very thing that made them so great in this book; that personal touch that pulls you in. And it’s not just the action scenes that are given this treatment. There is no lack of a sense of wonder in these books, scenes where the character simply takes a moment to look at something amazing and realize it’s amazing.
I very much enjoyed this book and series and would recommend it to anyone. I’ve now read books 1-3, and while I would not rate those as highly as I rate this one, I recommend them all. They’re part hard sci-fi, part space opera, with a dash of horror, mystery and politics (maybe some romance too) so there’s a little bit in them for everyone. Let’s just hope that the SyFy channel gives them the treatment they deserve. ...more
How To Not Die On Mars: A Sarcastic Astronaut's Handbook
All right Amazon, Goodreads, Half Price Books and anyone else that bombarded me with adverts fHow To Not Die On Mars: A Sarcastic Astronaut's Handbook
All right Amazon, Goodreads, Half Price Books and anyone else that bombarded me with adverts for this book, I gave in and read it. I do like to occasionally break out of my comfort zone and read what the rest of the world is reading. With Ridley Scott about to make a movie of this, I figure I might as well be one of the few who can turn their nose up and say, “well I read the book before the movie came out.” Before any of my usual ranting takes place I will say that I did enjoy this book. As frustrating as it could be at times I was compelled to read and read fast. I wanted to know what happened, dammit. That said, I’m about to say something that I don’t say often in regards to books: this may actually be more entertaining as a movie.
I’m sure everyone knows what this book is about, but a two sentence summary would be: “Manned expedition to Mars goes wrong and a man is left behind, believed dead. Now he must use what little he has at hand to survive while hoping for a rescue that may never come.” This sounds like a rich and interesting premise. I wanted to read a story about a man suffering loneliness and isolation on a planet by himself. Well, the story WAS about that, but it’s presented in such a way that any emotional impact that the scenario would normally provide is sucked out. Mark Watney is a sarcastic a**hole. Don’t get me wrong, as a character he is immensely entertaining. I found myself laughing at this book on numerous occasions. In fact, I think it was more funny than it was thrilling. The problem with that is it’s not SUPPOSED to be a comedy. The humor and the nature of the story is light hearted enough that I know nothing truly bad will actually happen and so most tension is drained out of it. When the obstacles happen, such as (minor spoiler) his rover flipping while he’s trying to drive to somewhere critical, I know that somehow he will right the rover and continue on his way. Surely things may be less functional than before, but Mark is an engineer and he is an expert and doing what he can with what he’s got. The whole book is pretty much about him having less and less to work with and managing to work with it anyway.
Really though, this book had some wonderfully hilarious passages. Here are a few of my favorites: 1) “Folks, this is going to be the most ghetto spacecraft we’ve ever built.” 2) “I’m trapped in a small square that smells like burnt arm hair.” 3) “That's right Mars, I'm going to piss and sh*t on you. That's what you get for trying to kill me all the time.”
Aside from humor, another thing this book has in abundance is technical detail. It’s not enough that Mark Watney fixes all of his problems, but in his log entries, he’s going to tell you exactly how he does it to a damned T. Water regular stopped functioning? He’ll tell you exactly why. Want to know how to grow potatoes in a Martian habitat? You’ll learn. Want to know exactly how many solar panels it takes to power two rovers? You get the idea. I think that the tech detail to story ratio in The Martian is tipped in favor of the tech detail. I really enjoyed it at first, when he first returns to the habitat as a solo crew member and works out how he can use every little thing to his advantage. But as the story went on, I was hoping for less of these details, but no such luck. The plethora of technical detail continues until the last few pages. The plus side of all this is that it’s all interjected with his angry swearing and sarcastic brand of humor, without which I’m sure I’d probably have glossed past these sections in boredom.
So while Watney is the main show of the book, we do get interludes from his logs as the story breaks to the NASA folks in Houston and to the remaining crew members of the Hermes as they fly back to Earth, thinking their fellow crew member is dead. This was a welcome surprise because after several chapters of Mark’s logs I was ready for a break. Despite how little page time each of the characters gets, they all have their own distinct personalities. The banter and debating between the folks at NASA is nearly as entertaining as Watney’s commentary.
Something else I noticed nearly halfway through reading the book: Mark Watney seems to really hate Mars. Yes, I understand he’d trapped there and has reason to hate it, but he never gives any indication that he was ever excited to be there in the first place. Sure he’s there by himself and every circumstance in the world is trying to kill him, but... it’s Mars! Considering he’s a scientist and astronaut, you’d think being on another planet would be his living dream, but he seems to have no sense of wonder at all. He mentions Phobos only because he uses it to help navigate (since compasses don’t work on Mars) and he refers to Deimos as a useless speck of sh*t. Never once does the book even mention Olympus Mons, the largest mountain in the solar system, or Mariner Valley, the massive canyon that runs for 4000 miles along the planet. Even if the author had no intention of placing the story near these features, wouldn’t someone on Mars want to see them? If I was trapped on Mars and thought I was going to die, I would at least think, “damn, I really wanted to see the largest mountain in the known universe.”
In summary, the Martian is a humorous and fairly entertaining book about survival on Mars. As someone who loves to be pulled into strange alien settings when it comes to science fiction, I was left disappointed here. Also as someone who likes to be emotionally invested in the characters I read about, I was disappointed there as well. If you read this book without expecting those things, I think you can still enjoy it. It’s a very informative and very straightforward look at what a manned Mars expedition could really be like. All the dangers of space travel mixed with the political red tape back on Earth tell me how much I’m glad I never wanted to be an astronaut. I look forward to seeing one of the Masters of science fiction movies adapt this into a film. Perhaps Ridley Scott can inject the story with a sense of awe and wonder that I had hoped to get from the book. For now, I return to my normal scheduled reading. Perhaps soon I’ll poke my head back out of my hole and read another book all the kids are reading. I’m looking at you, Ready Player One... ...more
Lately I've been looking for something to fill that itch left behind by John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, which I count as some of the most entertaiLately I've been looking for something to fill that itch left behind by John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, which I count as some of the most entertaining science fiction that I've read, and definitely my favorite military sci-fi. Both Goodreads and Amazon kept recommending Marko Kloos' Frontline series to me, so with nothing but those recommendations and the fact that I liked the cover art for Terms of Enlistment, I decided to give it a try. Upon finishing the book, I'm left with a mixed sense of emotions. The younger, less critical version of me would have thought, "wow, this book was filled with action and explosions and spaceships like Starship Troopers!" But the older, more critical me can't help but think, "Is that it?"
Terms of Enlistment is about Andrew Grayson, a character who is about as interesting as his name. There are a lot of reasons why Andrew should be an interesting character, like the fact that he grew up in poverty in the slums of Boston's PRC, or the fact that he has an abusive father who washed out from the same military that Andrew himself is looking to join. These sharp edges could have been used to hone Andrew into an exciting, flawed hero. Instead, Andrew is as bland as white bread with no real memorable character traits. He seems like any number of people I might have met in real life. While that might make him slightly relatable it doesn't make him very fun to read about. Average Joes like myself might make for great people but we don't necessarily make for great story characters. If Andrew had a psychological tick like the tendency to lash out at his friends without meaning to (due to being abused as a child), this alone would have made him more interesting to read and given him a personal obstacle to overcome. But despite his upbringing he seems perfectly emotionally stable. His father tells him in the beginning of the book that he'll wash out just like he did and later Andrew tells himself that he'd never give his father the satisfaction, but that's about all we get in regards to how that abuse affected him as a person.
Not only is Andrew as gray as his last name, he's also fairly inconsistent. I suppose he loves his mother, or is at least fond of her. He goes out of his way to secure her with extra meal rations before he leaves for the service, making money by selling his gun which he used for protection. I thought, "if life is so bad in the PRC that he needed a gun just to walk around, why didn't he leave the gun with his mother?" But despite that oversight, he makes sure she's all set up before he leaves. He doesn't shed a year or anything but he says his goodbyes and thinks to himself that he'll never see her again. But then as he's shuttling off out of Boston, he says to himself that if the whole place were to be bombed by the enemy, he wouldn't have cared. Wow, Andrew, that's pretty damned harsh. In fact, after this, he hardly thinks about his mother again other than to mention that she is addicted to lame network TV dramas. Later in the story after he's joined the armed forces, he is on a mission that involves crowd control of an unruly mob in a place like the one in which he grew up. He says to himself, "a year ago, I would have been part of that mob." Yet nothing about his character prior to this even hinted that he would be the type to participate in a riot. In fact the author makes it clear that Andrew likes to read classic novels like Moby Dick, I suppose to establish that he's an intellectual stuck in an environment to which he does not belong? None of these ideas are expanded upon and Andrew just seems like an amalgamation of random character traits cobbled together for the purpose of propelling a story.
So what about the rest of the book? He joins the military and does some fighting, so that's exciting right? A little bit. The author describes action sequences very well and I was able to feel the urgency and desperation as the bullets flew and the bodies dropped. But while I was impressed with the detail of these sequences, I didn't really care why they were happening or what the outcome was. The North American Commonwealth is apparently a dystopia, putting so much of its resources into its military and expansion that most of its people were forced to eat recycled food. Why should I care if they defeat the Russians in a battle? Other than the main character, who I know will live thanks to the trappings of first person narrative, I am in no way invested in the battles Andrew has to fight in. There was a really impressive battle involving Andrew's drop ship getting shot down in the middle of enemy territory which ended with Andrew having to kill dozens of civilians to save his few squad members, but there were no consequences from this. He thinks about the people that he killed but this has no lasting effect on him. In fact, he uses the incident as leverage to alter his military career so that he can be with his girlfriend that he met in basic training.
Being with his girlfriend Hailey is really the only internal motivation that Andrew has, other than not wanting to live in the slums anymore. Unfortunately, Hailey is about as uninteresting as he is. She even come from a middle class background and didn't know a harsh life such as he did, making her even more white bread than Andrew. They love each other for no reason other than that they sat at the same table at lunch in training and they frequently bumped uglies.
Eventually Andrew goes into space and this was where I was thinking, "all right, here's where we're going to get some real insight as to how the military really works and what they're really fighting for." But we don't get that. According to the book description, the year is 2108, less than 100 years in our future and apparently humanity has terraformed and colonized dozens of worlds and has an advanced warp drive that moves ships across light years in a matter of hours. Also, the Chinese are the enemy of the NAC in space colonization. There is no elaboration on this, like there is no elaboration on the Russians being the enemy on earth. At this point in the book (about 2/3rds of the way in), a new, unexpected enemy is encountered which would have been more interesting if there were any type of setup for this earlier in the story. This new threat is apparently the primary antagonist in the later novels of the series, but here it gets very little page time and almost feels like an afterthought, as if the author thought, "well, this is boring so here's some aliens to spice things up." If the story had started out with even a hint that these things existed, perhaps some mention of communications with fringe colonies getting cut off on a news report or something, I would have been more willing to accept this plot twist.
I'm giving Terms of Enlistment two stars instead of one, because it wasn't a bad book. Marko Kloos is a functional writer and despite a few cringe worthy moments between Andrew and Hailey, I found his prose and dialogue quite readable. Banter between characters was entertaining and amusing at times. Kloos also handles descriptive detail very well, especially when it comes to battle sequences. I was able to draw a clear mental picture at nearly every sequence of the book and when the ground shook from the explosion of a Mars missile, I could picture the ground shaking beneath my actual feet. Yet while Terms exhibits great minor detail, there is very little world building to speak of. Everything about the world feels bland and recycled from other ideas we've seen before. Coupled with the fact that I could have cared less if the main character was sucked into the vacuum of space, I can't say I recommend Terms of Enlistment. If you're looking for military science fiction in the same vein, try Old Man's War, Forever War or Starship Troopers. Perhaps in the future I'll be compelled to read the next Frontlines book, but for now I'll continue my search for compelling and addicting military sci-fi....more
Having now read the first five books in the Honor Harrington sequence, I can say that The Short Victorious War is my favorite. While I definitely enjoHaving now read the first five books in the Honor Harrington sequence, I can say that The Short Victorious War is my favorite. While I definitely enjoyed the intense ship to ship combat of Honor of the Queen, the conflict of that book was still on a small scale not unlike Basilisk Station. In book three, we get a look at the wider universe (or Honorverse) and an in depth look at Manticore’s mortal enemies, The People’s Republic of Haven. The weird part: this book isn’t even really about Honor. I mean, she’s in it of course, but the subject of this book really is Haven and they steal the show here.
The book begins with a Havenite meeting of the highest government surrounding the topic of the unruly mob of proles that the broken system of Haven’s government has spawned. Haven spends too much money on military and so its people are starving and rebellious. What better to distract them than shiny battleships and explosions all over the news feeds? And so, Haven decides a short victorious war is what it needs to satisfy the legions. The likely target? Manticore of course. No more sneaking about or planning single system takeovers. This time, the gloves are off. Yet even as Haven brings the war to Manticore, there is trouble brewing deep within its own government as some would wish to bring about a revolution.
While the Manticorans are honorable and noble like nobody’s business, the characters of the Republic are flawed and ambitious. Manticore is already nearly perfect so characters from that star nation have nothing to fix but the aggressors seeking to crush them from without. The Havenites however are fighting from a broken star nation, their people conflicted and questioning their own actions. To me, this makes them to be much more interesting to read about. It’s almost a shame that more of these books aren’t written from their perspective (keeping in mind that I haven’t yet read past book five).
Honor is a fun character, but let’s face it, she’s unrealistic to a fault. I know she’ll never die. I know she’ll always do what’s right. I know she has no vices (she doesn’t even drink coffee for f***’s sake!) She’s good at everything. She can fly anything from hang gliders to pinnaces to super dreadnoughts. She’s great at hand to hand combat, sword fighting and highly proficient with pistols. She’s perfect in nearly every way. The only thing “wrong” with her is that she’s too tall and used to be ugly as a kid. Hell, even her greatest enemies respect and fear her. Since she has no internal conflicts to resolve, much like Manticore itself, all of her conflicts will come from external sources. Sure it’s fun to see her resolve them, just like it’s fun to see Captain America beat the hell out of bad guys. But like Cap, she’s essentially a super hero and for that reason I’ll never really relate to her character or sympathize with her plights. Now, a book series from the point of view of a Havenite revolutionary... that would be something. But alas, Honor is what we have and her endless supremacy will always keep these from being five star books for me.
Characters aside, this book does what the series does best and that’s space action. Really, that’s why we read these, right? We want things to go boom in space. The percentage of actual ship combat in these books is pretty small, when they do come about, the result is always brutal and entertaining. Here we get it on a grand scale as Haven attacks multiple systems in complicated attack patterns and the Manticorans are left struggling to pick up the pieces and guess at their plans of attack with Honor in the thick of it.
After reading book three, I realized that the problems I have with the series are not going to get “fixed.” This is the way the series is and if I want to keep reading and actually enjoy them, I need to look past the ridiculous characters and campy dialogue. The fact that I have been able to look past this and continue to devour these books tells how much I enjoy the rest of it. Short Victorious War has a little bit of everything as far as the Honorverse goes: romance, politics, revolution, and war on a grand scale. I liked book two well enough but it was after book three that I truly became hooked on the Honorverse and will continue getting sucked down the rabbit hole. ...more
If one were to gauge what makes a perfect science-fiction story, what elements would have to be in place? You could start with a very open question. FIf one were to gauge what makes a perfect science-fiction story, what elements would have to be in place? You could start with a very open question. For example, who else is out there besides us? You could take realistic human beings, bound by the laws of science as we know it today, and throw them at that question. Throw in an epic journey through space, a nearly unstoppable adversary and a mind-warping ending that exceeds the wildest expectations. And to top it off, wild sex with beautiful alien women. 2001: A Space Odyssey has all of these elements but one. It is a nearly perfect sci-fi experience.
Now I’ll admit to one little bit of sci-fi fandom heresy. I’ve never seen the 2001 movie. I’ve seen countless other classic science fiction films, but for some reason just never watched it. I was just thinking recently that I should watch the film, but as I'm on a bit of a classic reading stint right now I decided to read Clarke's book first. Really I have no idea what took me this long. Aside from Michael Chrichton, Clarke was my introduction to science fiction. I read Rendesvous With Rama in middle school and absolutely loved it. Having returned to reading Clarke after so many years, I can say with a surety that he is one of my favorite science fiction authors.
If you asked who the book's main character was, I suppose I would have to say that it's David Bowman. But 2001 doesn't really follow a typical format where one character can be pinpointed as "it." The book has several acts, two just happen to be smaller than the last acts featuring Mr. Bowman. The book starts 3 million years ago, when humans handn't quite developed from man-ape... things. Our POV character here is Moon-Watcher, a man-ape that encounters a monolith, one such object that each "main" character will encounter in 2001. This monolith, obviously extra-terrestrial in origin, changes Moon-Watcher and sets in motion a change in the entire human race. Fast forward three million years, give-or-take some centuries or so. Our next POV character, Dr. Heywood Floyyd, a famous scientist, is called to the moon to view a new discovery. Yet another mysterious monolith has been revealed, hidden from the news-mongers on aearth under the pretext that it's a plague broken out on the lunar base. This brings us to David Bowman.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and Bowman and a few other crew members are hurtling through space in a new state of the art ship, on a mission whose purpose isn't revealed until the end of the story. Their constant, ever-awake companion is an on-board ship AI with an agenda of its own. ("What're you doing, Dave? I can't let you do that, Dave.") Though I haven't seen the movie, I've known about Hal since I was a child. Being surrounded by movie quoting nerds my whole life, it'd be impossible not to. Hal is an immediately recognizable sci-fi icon and it was entertaining to finally learn what it was all about, even if it wasn't the medium that most people first experienced "him" in.
I don't want it give anything else away for the few people like me who don't know the story. In summation, I will say that 2001 has everything I love and forgot I loved about science fiction. With a great mystery to look forward to, I was eager to know what was going to happen from the first few pages onward. Clarke's writing is fantastic. Not only was he a visionary (he wrote this book before the moon landing for frakk's sake!), his writing was incredibly detailed and gripping. I am absolutely never bored when I'm reading Arthur C. Clarke. He pulls beauty out of the plain and excitement out of the mundane. During Bowman's journey, you will have no trouble believing that this is exactly what mankind's first trip to the outer planets will really be like. I felt like I was really staring at Jupiter and Saturn and seeing it with amazement through Bowman's eyes. While the ending of the book is worth the wait (not that this is a particularly long book) and utterly mind-warping in scope, the true majesty of 2001 is realizing the wonder that already exists in our own non-fictional universe. Everyone who is even remotely interested in science fiction or who just loves a good story about human discovery should read 2001: A Space Odyssey...more
Having just finished reading Brave New World, I have now concluded what I am calling the Future Dystopian Trilogy. Beginning with 1984, then on to FahHaving just finished reading Brave New World, I have now concluded what I am calling the Future Dystopian Trilogy. Beginning with 1984, then on to Fahrenheit 451 and finishing with Huxley's visionary piece that was written almost two decades before the other two. The time in which it was written is possibly the most extraordinary thing about Brave New World. When I read 1984, I was thinking constantly that Orwell was some sort of prophet to have imagined his world in the late 1940's. Now I can see that some of these ideas possibly were borrowed from Aldous Huxley's Utopian vision of the far future. Which is funny because apparently Orwell accused Huxley of borrowing from a previously published book called "We." And then he proceeds to write a similar novel of his own. Oh how we humans do justify our actions.
In Huxley's classic work, we have a sharp contrast to Orwell's book. 1984: oppression, misery, fear, war. Brave New World: cleanliness, peace, "happiness", perfection. Gosh, Huxley's world seems much more a pleasant place to live now doesn't it? Well I guess if one were going to compare the two, sure. I suppose I'd rather live in this bright, shiny far future than I would in Orwell's ultra-bleak one. At least I'd have a better chance of not being vaporized. But Brave New World is bleak for totally different reasons and in some ways it's a far scarier vision of a foreseeable future for humanity.
The book begins with a group of students taking a tour of an embryonic facility. That is a place where humans are literally grown in bottles, tweaked, manipulated and otherwise conditioned to be the most perfect humans they can be. The author wastes no time dumping information on you as an introduction into his world, but it is not a boring info-dump. The way in which it's presented, with us learning at the same time as this group of students, was actually a fairly engrossing way to start the book. The book quickly got its hooks in me and I found myself in awe of such a horrible idea and in awe that an author gave us this idea in 1932. We learn that humans are created in certain castes; epsilons, gammas, deltas, betas and so on. Each caste is designed for a specific purpose. The lower the caste, the more remedial the work they are accustomed to. In this world, nobody is complaining about their jobs because they wouldn't know how to do anything different and they wouldn't want to. Nobody is striving to be better than they are because they are all already the best they are going to be and thanks to their conditioning, nobody can change that. Now, even so, people are always inclined to question their environment and their superiors and think that the grass is always greener on the other side. So how do you keep these people happy? Drugs. Lots of drugs. Soma is a drug that they take on a regular basis, lest they find themselves depressed and the world they live in unbearable. And when people are happy, they consume and consume. Industry is another subject of Huxley’s satire in BNW. In fact, instead of God, they worship Ford, the founder of the car company. I’m not joking about that.
So to propel this story forward, we need an odd-man-out, a stick in the spoke of the bicycle wheel. That man is Bernard... kind of. He's definitely an odd duck but he's not as well defined of a character as Winston in 1984. But he has a lot of similarities. He is miserable because he knows that what's happening around him is wrong. He strives for something better. He also chooses not to take his soma, which causes many irregularities in his personality, and garners unwanted attention from superiors and others. But regardless of his unsavory reputation, he attracts the attention of a female co-worker named Lenina who wants to have a fling with him. (In Brave New World, everyone belongs to everyone else, so there are no marriages or family or “relationships.”) So they go on a vacation to New Mexico to be among the savages (the Native Americans) to witness their strange way of life in the reservation. But there they meet someone unexpected. John. John was born of someone who came from the “new world” but he never lived there. He was raised among the “savages” only ever hearing about the new world in stories told by his mother, and imagining it to be this amazing place.
This is the point in the book that the narrative took a dramatic turn. The primary protagonist became John, and Bernard just a side character. Now, as John goes into the new world, he gets to see with his own eyes and learn that it’s not what he had imagined it to be. What he thought to be amazing advancements, he learns are really great drawbacks. With a head full of Shakespere (something entirely forbidden in the new world) and romantic ideas about the human race, he is destined only for disappointment. As he goes to the Feelies, which are like movies but involve all of the senses, he realizes that art no longer has value or substance. He questions how people could enjoy a movie with a stupidly simple plot that's called "Helicopters." This isn't entirely unlike Mike Judge's satirical movie, Idiocracy. Just replace John with Luke Wilson and "Helicopters" with the movie "Ass."
At this point is where I believe the ideas of this book supercedes the story and characters. The narrative has a strange flow to it and there is a lack of a central protagonist. Rather there are three or perhaps even four characters that seem to jointly share that roll. Bernard seemed like the key character but once John was introduced it was almost as if Huxley just thought, "you know, I like John better, so I'm going to turn Bernard into an unsympathetic whiny brat who thinks too highly of himself for discovering John and make JOHN my new protagonist." I find it curious that John wasn't made to be the main character. It seems the story would have been more compelling had it started with John, a white man living amongst the savages, who suffers all his life as an outcast. He just wants to be among people that are like him. He listens in awe about a world where everyone is equal and dreams to go there. Then we could have been introduced to the new world from his eyes, experienced him reel in horror as he tours the embryonic facility. We could experience the pains of this depraved world from someone that had expected so much better. I feel it would have driven Huxley's message home on a whole new level and made for more compelling reading besides.
But regardless of useless rewrites that take place in my head, I really did enjoy Brave New World. It gives satire and commentary on a great number of issues, from mistreatment of Native Americans to the way our society did, and still does, emphasise mass industry. Is it right to give a book an extra star just because it's considered "old" or a "classic?" I'm not sure, but it's happening here anyways. What may only be a 2-3 star book as far as plot and story becomes a 4 star book for leaving an impact on me and making me look at our current society retrospectively. Any of the 3 books that make up the Future Dystopian Trilogy are highly recommended reads, and reading them all consecutively was quite an experience. I think now, however, I'm ready for some light reading for a while. Isn't Don Quixote supposed to be a quick and easy read? Maybe I'll check that out next....more
I am calling Fahrenheit 451 part 2 of the Future Dystopian Trilogy that I'm currently reading. The first book being Orwell’s 1984 and the concluding vI am calling Fahrenheit 451 part 2 of the Future Dystopian Trilogy that I'm currently reading. The first book being Orwell’s 1984 and the concluding volume (which incidentally I’m almost finished with) being Brave New World. As I’m reading all 3 of these books back to back, you can expect this review and the next to be ripe with comparisons between them. I’m sure countless other people have made these comparisons but I haven’t read their reviews, so alas you’re stuck with me giving opinions you may already have heard on a book that came out more than sixty years ago. I know, I’m excited too!
To start with, this book was much different than I had always envisioned in my mind. I’d read The Illustrated Man back in high school but remember almost nothing of it, so I didn’t have a feel for what Bradbury’s writing voice was like. Well, now I can say that it’s incredibly unique. He writes with a lot of ambiguities that at first seemed unnecessary and sort of irritating, but I later found compelling once I got used to his style. His writing is also full of metaphor, which in some passages I had to read more than once just to make sure it WAS metaphor. He doesn’t always bother with expressions like “it was as if...” This oddity with his prose was a little strange to get used to at first but like the rest of his writing, I ended up finding it compelling.
Fahrenheit 451 centers around a fireman, being a man who sets fires in this perverse backward world. There are no accidental fires in the future, since everyone’s homes are flame retardant, unless a fireman comes to burn it. What’s the reason they burn people’s homes, you may ask? I’m sure you already know the answer is books. In Orwell’s 1984, books are allowed but they are edited to the extreme, so the government has complete control of the content. In Fahrenheit, they are strictly forbidden and anyone caught with them gets their home (and in some cases themselves) burned. Guy Montague, the main character, enjoys this job until he meets a young woman that asks him a series of strange questions, sewing doubt into his head that will be stuck with him for the rest of the book. In 1984, Winston knows he’s oppressed all the while, but can do nothing about it. In Fahrenheit, the protagonist is just waking up. Guy begins to question the world around him, he sees that there is nothing of substance on the television his wife is always watching. He questions the plot and story of programs she’s hooked on, and listening to her try to explain makes her realize that not only is the content insipid, but she sort of is too. He realizes that what he does for a living might be wrong. He realized he’s unhappy in his marriage and that his wife, and so many others, are just sheep glued to televisions (or the equivalent in this, which are full wall screens.) He wants to read books and find out what he’s missing.
So what is this story trying to tell us? What is the message that Bradbury is getting at here? The theme would appear to be, and has been marketed as, government censorship. But besides the fact that so many critics seem to agree that this is what it’s about, Bradbury had said otherwise. This book is about the dangers of getting your information from television rather than books. Now can we also just say that it’s also about government censorship even though he says it’s not? Sure! I am. The fact that Bradbury unintentionally (so he claimed) wrote about a subject that happened to become more and more relevant as time went on only increases the value of this book. Bradbury just saw a device that many people had in their homes that could potentially turn them into intellectual sluggards. Well, he wasn’t wholly wrong. And now there is so much more than just TV in people’s homes feeding people more useless drivel than helpful information. Sure, I partake in those things, but I’m also an avid reader, so I’m in the clear... right? Well come to think of it, I do play a LOT of video games... I’m scared. As with 1984, the morals here are just as, if not more so, relevant today than they were when it was written. READ BOOKS! They’re good for your brain and whatnot.
One con about Fahrenheit 451, perhaps my only complaint: it’s too short! I’d love to read more about the little girl and know more about her story. I’d love to know more about why Beatty, Guy’s fireman boss, knows so much about books while simultaneously preaching against them. I wanted to see Guy burn more houses! FIRE... Well, perhaps that’s just the intellectual dullard in me talking. Otherwise, this is a great book. Sure it’s short, but it was written in a time when books didn’t have to be 500 pages. There is as much content in the 170+ pages as there is in most other books I’ve read. The story is fairly compelling, the writing is elegant, the message is good. Unlike 1984, Bradbury gives this message in a much more subtle way. He doesn’t spoon-feed anything to you. There’s nothing about this world that’s cut and dry. You get the feeling that there’s so much more you could learn, but this one story about Guy Montague will have to be enough. It may not be perfect, but I’d recommend this book to anybody. Procure a copy, read it and pass it on. ...more
I’d like to think of myself as a well read person, as in I read a lot. But can I really be well read if I’ve hardly read any “classic” literature outsI’d like to think of myself as a well read person, as in I read a lot. But can I really be well read if I’ve hardly read any “classic” literature outside of Lord of the Rings? I decided this year that I would pepper various books that could be considered classic literature into my reading plan. I want to read a lot of the books that every reader is presumed to have read, so when people ask me “did you read such and such?", I can say “why yes, I did read such and such.” If for no other reason, than to at least say that I’ve done it. I’ve started this new found reading goal with (you guessed it) George Orwell’s 1984.
I just finished the book and have had a few days to collect my thoughts about it and formulate an educated opinion. My opinion? It’s kind of depressing... But that’s fine! I like depressing (to an extent. This isn’t The Road or anything.) After all, this isn’t real life is it? Right? I mean, what happened to Winston isn’t really happening to us now is it? That question is not only what makes this book slightly depressing, but also a bit eye-opening as well. But enough of that kind of talk! Let’s get on to the book review.
Meet Winston, average every-man. Forty-something, divorced, tedious job, lives in a run down apartment. Except he’s not really average. Not in the society he lives in. A society in which everything you do is watched, every action and even thought, scrutinized. “Big Brother”, the only real thing that Wilson’s world has to an authoritarian/presidential type figure, is not really a person at all. Rather a presence personified in the form of a mustachioed man whose eyes follow Winston from posters, billboards and telescreens nearly everywhere in this dystopian version of London. Winston doesn’t like that Big Brother is always watching him. Winston knows he’s a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Somehow he’s always known. He’s not comfortable with the way people seem to ignore what’s going on around them. He wants to live in a society where people are free to think and do what they want and people don’t just disappear when they don’t fit in. Well, we’d love for Winston to break free of this oppressive society but the more we read on, the more we realize how bleak that outlook becomes.
Orwell wastes no time at the beginning of the book (actually throughout the entirety of it) making sure we know how his world works. There isn’t really much in the way of subtlety here. Through Winston’s eyes, we see children who turn their parents in for acting strangely. We see people rallying to telescreens daily for the “Two Minute Hate” in which people are forced to watch propaganda depicting Big Brother as the destroyer of all enemies. Nobody has privacy. Even in their own homes, people have screens that can see them. In fact, Winston has to hide in one little corner, a blind-spot of his telescreens, where he can write in his diary, something else people aren’t really allowed to do anymore, lest they write material that demotes the beloved Big Brother. Not that it matters what people write down, because the Thought Police will snag you simply based on treasonous thoughts you may have had, even in your sleep! Yup, this world is pretty bleak. It’s definitely not a future I’d want to live in. But, isn’t that the point of this book?
There are definitely comparisons that can be drawn to our present time, like the editing of facts and knowledge before it is released to the public. In 1984, this is done to the complete extreme, where ALL data that is printed, televised or otherwise is filed through a department called The Ministry of Truth, whose job it is to sculpt every fact to the Party’s liking, pertaining to the present and even the past. Did the Party invent the airplane? No, but that doesn’t matter because they say they did. Nobody will argue with them because these facts will be slowly taken away and changed until everyone forgets that there was once anything different. It is not that extreme in the present (at least in the United States, I can’t speak for all other countries) but we do have a government that can control what we watch on TV, what we see in movies and are working at controlling what we are allowed to see on the internet. And how about our privacy? There is definitely something creepy about the way that Orwell predicted this future before such things like cell phones and even computers were even invented. And I realize that it wasn't Orwell alone and that other great minds of the time had envisioned the way society could head. But specifically to predict the way surveillance is everywhere and our every communication could potentially be always monitored seems borderline prophetic. Of course George couldn’t have known that I’d be reading his book at a time when the NSA has admitted to reading millions of text messages every day, but that still doesn’t prevent the chills up my spine. Is there any text, phone call, email, search engine entry or chat message we can send that we can assure will only be read by the intended recipient?
Okay, I realize I’m getting a little heavy handed here and possibly off topic. Back to the book itself. As I said, Orwell’s writing may not be the most subtle. He throws some far-fetched ideas out there. I can’t believe that any government could ever truly go to the extremes that the Party does in 1984. But his writing is incredibly readable and for a “classic” it is instantly accessible. The setting here isn't just bleak because of what is happening, but because of how Winston is affected by it and how those emotions are described. We’re always in his head, so in a sense, we are oppressed by the same government. The only time in the book where I admit to being tempted to skim was when Winston gets a hold of some contraband literature that gives him in depth detail on the Party’s true history. Well not only does Winston read it, but YOU get to as well. An entire chapter of it (and a little bit of another chapter too.) This was interesting reading and provided a lot of insight into the world, but it was like reading a text book. I’ve never been too fond of information dumps in books and this seemed like a cheap way of unloading ideas and info about the world of 1984.
So, 1984 can be a little unbelievable in spots, and a little dense in others, but it’s still a very good book. I don’t regret reading it and the underlying message it sense will stick with me always. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see a security camera on the wall without having the words “Big Brother” appear somewhere in my mind. This will be one of those books I’ll want to acquire a second copy of, so I can always have one on my shelf and another to pass around from hand to hand. Quick, read it before the government finds out it’s too close to the truth!! *hides copy under the floorboards* ...more
I started reading Leviathan Wakes because I'm a fan of the author's fantasy work under the name Daniel Abraham (though I still haven't read the last oI started reading Leviathan Wakes because I'm a fan of the author's fantasy work under the name Daniel Abraham (though I still haven't read the last of the Long Price series, shame on me.) His fantasies have a simple, yet eloquent style that makes them captivating and intriguing, even when not much is going on in the way of action. I wasn't quite expecting the same here, after reading that the book had to do with space zombies, yet still, If I hadn't already known, I wouldn't have believed this was penned by the same man. Does that mean this book is bad? Not necessarily. But it is very different from what I expected, and I can't say I enjoyed it as much.
(Disclaimer: this review should be at least 95% spoiler free. I will do my best not to reveal any crucial plot points but you may learn more about the book reading this review than you would the jacket cover. You've been warned.)
The book definitely had my attention from the start. I was intrigued by the universe, almost Firefly-esque, being confined to the solar system with the stars just as inaccessible in the future as they are in the present. Like in Hunter's Run, (which the author co-wrote as Daniel Abraham) it is a future without the fancy things like lasers, robots and green men that we've come to expect from Space Opera. Leviathan leans more in the direction of realism (that is, until the space zombies). Space flight is boring, hand guns fire metal projectiles and space is full of the same stinky, flawed humans that our Earth is now. Is there anything wrong with any of this? Not specifically, no. I like a gritty, realistic fiction. It's how I like my fantasy, after all.
Before I go more into the setting, let's talk about the main characters. I'll only bother with the two primary protagonists, Holden and Miller. At first these two are running independent story lines but naturally they merge together. Holden is the Earth born shipman who will do whatever he thinks is right before thinking of the consequences. Miller is a cop at the end of his rope, born in space, having spent his whole life in artificial gravity. He's divorced, delusional and has an inflated sense of his own abilities. They are both flawed, interesting characters and I had no problem reading about them. Holden was perhaps slightly less interesting. While he is flawed, his sense of morals was hard for me to relate with. Miller's chapters, while containing less of the action portions, I found much more intriguing.
As for the story, without giving too much away, there is plenty to make the reader interested from the get-go. We have an intro that alluded to some greater sci-fi mystery later on, a ship that gets blown up in the second chapter, strange police cases and so on. There's nothing really boring going on.
So why the hell didn't I have more fun reading it? I spent a lot of time while reading this book asking myself that question. Holden and his crew are captured, on a ship they believed to be the enemy's when it gets attacked by someone else. Enticing right? Meh. I just couldn't find myself caring. I enjoyed Miller's chapters and his police cases more, but then I realized I was more interested in the environment he lived in, a hallowed out asteroid, than I was him and what he was doing. I did a little dissection of the book (and my own thoughts of it) to determine why this may be the case.
There are two main genres of science fiction: hard sci-fi and space opera. In hard sci-fi I expect the focus to be on the science, at the cost of perhaps a little bit of character development. With space opera I expect the focus to be more on the characters and what they're going through, and the science to be more background noise, because it's less important. To me, space opera should have a sense of wonder. I should be a bit mystified by the whole experience.
Leviathan Wakes is a sci-fi book in need of a sub-genre. It doesn't have the scientific credibility to be hard sci-fi (not that the author tries to pass it off as such, he's said it's working man's sci-fi) and it's just not quite mysterious/ambitious enough for me to make good space opera. It's wide in scope, yes, but for me it's just too cut and dry. The characters spend an arduous amount of time explaining how everything works and when the action comes it's too by-the-numbers. And if the revelation hinted at in the prologue was something other than what it was, I might have enjoyed the story much more. But the space zombies were just too ridiculous to me. Okay, it's weird and mysterious and no one knows where this alien substance originated from, but zombies? Perhaps in the latter books the author goes into the origin of this stuff, but that's not in THIS book. The story just kinda lost whatever hold it had on me up to that point. By this time, Holden and Miller had also turned from subjects of interest into action heroes, with the fate of all of mankind resting on them as they try to stop this plague from spreading. *Yawn.
I can't help but feel that I'm being unfair here, as the book SEEMS to have all the right elements in place but it just doesn't work for me in the long run. It's a well imagined world and well imagined characters but with a hum drum story that I just can't get into. So for the setting, the characters and for the prose, I will give it a 3/5. Maybe I'll read the others, but I'm undecided yet. For now, I'll be sticking with Abraham's fantasy works....more