It took me almost 3 months to read this epic. It is so full of deep and challenging ideas that every 20 pages feltGreatest science fiction novel ever?
It took me almost 3 months to read this epic. It is so full of deep and challenging ideas that every 20 pages felt like a full meal, which I needed time to digest.
And frankly, I wished for about 30 more IQ points, which I felt would have helped me appreciate the book even better. Because Vinge is way smarter than me, and he's doing something very, very hard here: writing about intelligences far beyond current human level, in a setting that spans vast stretches of time and space. Audacious, to say the least.
Greatest science fiction novel ever? Well, I ain't read 'em all, but I've read quite a few. If we agree that SF is to be judged by the power of its imagination, the scope and originality of its ideas, then I'm hard-pressed to name another novel that's even in the same class. ...more
It's amazing the range of strong opinions found here on this book. "The writing is abominable;" "the writing is crystalline." "The characters are woodIt's amazing the range of strong opinions found here on this book. "The writing is abominable;" "the writing is crystalline." "The characters are wooden puppets;" "the characters are living breathing people." Even "the historical research is great;" "the historical research is faulty and clumsily presented."
Well, put me on the five-star side, folks. I loved this book!
Yes, it's long. But it is full of action and interesting plot lines, and there are long passages of tremendous, page-devouring suspense. To me, a book that is this long yet has this much sustained narrative drive is miraculous.
Yes, the characters are types: the godly monk, the nefarious bishop, the dispossessed princess, the solid family man, the boy genius artist, the wild witch of the forest. Yet Follett has a knack for turning prototypes into real-seeming characters by introducing complexity. The godly monk is also a shrewd schemer (who consistently questions whether he is doing God's will or his own); the orphaned princess is also a driven, feisty merchant (yet at times her iron will fails and she falls into despondency); the boy genius is torn between his devotion to his mental life and art and his need for the women in his life.
Yes, the writing is simple and straightforward. To me this is a great strength. Follett not only lays out everything his characters are seeing and feeling right on the surface, but, when necessary, he blatantly states the point he wants the reader to get. I think this prose style is a key to Follett's popularity. It keeps the focus relentlessly on the story (and not on the writing). It also allows him to communicate great intensity and complexity of emotion in a way that readers at all levels of sophistication can appreciate. This is a clear, formidable prose style that aspiring writers who yearn for popularity would do well to emulate.
Finally, some have objected to the 'false climax' that occurs 90 pages before the end of the book. The story then picks up some 15 years later and introduces a whole new plot line. I too found this a bit off-putting, until the very end when Follett makes clear how the events in this section tie together the entire story and knit it to the actual historical changes that took place during those years. At this point, you see how the whole narrative exemplifies the century in which the story occurs. At this point, in other words, the book rises to the level of great historical fiction.
So, come on, people! Don't hate this book for being popular. Enjoy it as the masterpiece of popular fiction that it is!...more
Complex, poignant, impressively erudite, fascinating and heart-breaking. To call this a historical mystery is by far inadequate. It is more like the aComplex, poignant, impressively erudite, fascinating and heart-breaking. To call this a historical mystery is by far inadequate. It is more like the apotheosis of the historical mystery.
The same events are recounted four ways by four different narrators. Which, if any, is the "reliable" narrator?
Did I mention the theological implications? A great book....more
Long ago, a grad school writing teacher recommended we read Willa Cather. It's taken me way too long to follow his advice.
This is an exquisite novel aLong ago, a grad school writing teacher recommended we read Willa Cather. It's taken me way too long to follow his advice.
This is an exquisite novel about life on the frontier and the immigrant experience in America. But mainly about love, loss, innocence, the pain of growing up, and "how much people can mean to each other."
The characters are passionate, beautifully drawn, yet consistently surprising. Cather's technique is indirect, or as she called it "unfurnished." What's left out is often more important than what's stated. The reader is left to interpret the meaning and importance of ambiguous actions and feelings.
It used to said that the late 19th Century was the Golden Age of the Novel. But I think it was the first two decades of the 20th Century when the form reached its zenith. That's when Joyce, Lawrence, and Conrad were writing books with unprecedented technical brilliance and psychological depth. In her quiet, understated way, Willa Cather was doing the same....more
In one quintessentially Greek moment from this superb novel, the narrator recalls the story of a father of two Olympic champions. At the moment when hIn one quintessentially Greek moment from this superb novel, the narrator recalls the story of a father of two Olympic champions. At the moment when his sons are crowned, the crowd chants to him to "Die now," because, of course, no moment of his life could ever again be so good.
So, in finishing The Mask of Apollo am I tempted to chant to myself: "Give up reading historical fiction now."
Mary Stewart, perhaps best remembered for her Merlin books (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment) here serves up a suberb romanticMary Stewart, perhaps best remembered for her Merlin books (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment) here serves up a suberb romantic thriller.
The story is set on the Greek island of Corfu, circa 1960. The narrator, a 25-year-old Engish stage actress, is visiting her sister at a beautiful villa overlooking the sea. But what starts out as an idlyllic holiday soon turns into a mystery, then gradually spins into danger and almost unbearable suspense.
Corfu is identified on page 1 as the model for Prospero's magical island, and intriguing references to Shakespeare's The Tempest reverberate throughout. But in this 20th Century world, the old magician is mostly ineffectual, and it's up to the clever, plucky heroine to unravell the mystery and make all turn out well.
Beautifully written, elegant and highly entertaining. ...more
A prodigious feat of science fiction extrapolation that left me feeling like I could almost, but not quite, fit together all the pieces. Since many ofA prodigious feat of science fiction extrapolation that left me feeling like I could almost, but not quite, fit together all the pieces. Since many of the pieces are microscopic nanotech structures, this was pretty darn good.
While deeply impressed by Stephenson's vision of a world refashioned by nanotechnology, I was even more intrigued by his imagined 21st Century political milieu. The Nation State has met its demise, replaced by world-wide tribal affiliations evolved along racial and cultural lines. The pendulum has swung from the "decadent moral relativism" of the 20th Century to hierarchical societies with codes of behavior rigidly enforced. Most prominent in the story are the Neo-Victorians of New Atlantis and the Han Chinese of the Middle Kingdom, who have driven out even Communism as a depraved Western influence in favor of a Confucian system presided over by Mandarins. Wow.
The Victorian era is echoed in the title (cf "Gilded Age") and also in the lead character, Nell, a poor child of the streets with a big destiny (cf. Dickens' prototypical Victorian heroine, Little Nell). Throw in a few airships and a rampage of impoverished Chinese peasants at the climax, and you see late Victorian-Edwardian history repeating itself in a higher octave.
I did struggle more than once to understand what was going on, and would have welcomed more clear information. And while the big-picture historical and technological events are powerfully conveyed, I found a distressing inattention to individual people. Characters seem to exist only to serve larger purposes (like ants or nanobots), and key figures leave the scene without us ever knowing how their stories end.
Still, these qualms aside, The Diamond Age is a stupendous piece of immersive SF, for the reader with the circuitry to handle it. ...more
An overlooked classic and maybe Stevenson's greatest work. A Gothic adventure with the same sense of fated family tragedy as Wuthering Heights. As proAn overlooked classic and maybe Stevenson's greatest work. A Gothic adventure with the same sense of fated family tragedy as Wuthering Heights. As profound and technically interesting as Bronte's classic, but a more exciting read....more
Fifty pages into this enormous historical epic, I told my buddy: "World without End" is aptly named, because it feels like the whole world is in it, aFifty pages into this enormous historical epic, I told my buddy: "World without End" is aptly named, because it feels like the whole world is in it, and it isn't gonna end any time soon.
But Follett's magic kept me turning the pages, and before long I was really enjoying the book. I found it not quite as polished as opus #1, Pillars of the Earth, the language more anachronistic seeming at times, the characters cheesier. But the super-duper plot, with it's endless reverses and twists and anguished melodrama; the heinous villains you had to really hate; and the ingenious and noble hero and heroine who you HAD to cheer for--all made for a thrilling read.
Oscar Wilde famously wrote, "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means." And Follett delivers on this essential promise (of entertainment fiction), although you have to wait over a thousand pages for the fulfillment of the promise. Somehow, I really didn't mind.
One of the peculiarities of my taste is that I tend to dislike "alternate histories." Having to imagine that theWe readers all have peculiar tastes.
One of the peculiarities of my taste is that I tend to dislike "alternate histories." Having to imagine that the Sourth won the Civil War and then Hitler migrated there in 1918 so the Germans were really the good guys in WWII...just seems too high a toll to pay before I even get in to the story.
And I have an equal prejudice against "epic historical fantasies" (of the type typified by Guy Gavriel Kay) where the setting is really (pick one) Renaissance Italy / 12th Century France / 5th Century Byzantium, except all the names are changed and magic really works! My feeling about these books is always, Why not just set the story there and then?!!
Which is why--and it is a peculiarity of my taste--I really do like historical fantasies set in this consensus reality, where real historical people and events appear on stage, and where magic is a secret shadow hovering at the fringes and in some way influenciing the history we all know.
All of which is a long way of explaining why I really liked The Patriot Witch.
Our hero, Proctor Brown is an all-American 20-year old in 1775 Massachusetts: tall, strong, handsome and hardworking. All he wants is to marry his pretty girlfriend and have her rich father help set him up for a prosperous life. While his sympathies are with the Colonists, he drills as a Minute Man only from a sense of neighborhly duty: he doesn't really expect a shooting war.
But next thing he knows he's on the Green at Lexington, a neighbor's shot dead beside him, and the Revolution has begun. Yet the war is the least of his problems, because Proctor is also the child of a witch with certain secret talents of his own. His quest to understand this hidden world to which he belongs, while the mundane world is exploding around him, makes for thrilling adventure.
The characters are varied and strong; the magic is plausibly-presented and nicely underplayed (well, except maybe for the spine-tingling zombie scene); and the plot and pacing are flawless. I espcecially liked one of the villains, an evil witch straight out of Hansel and Gretal.
Finlay's prose is also mostly good--workmanlike and polished. Only once or twice per chapter does it fall into anachronistic phrasings or bits of dialog with no place in the 18th Century. These lapses jarred me and made me nostalgic for the historical times I still remember, when novels still had editors.
But I carp too much. Overall, this is an exciting highly entertaining read that left me eager for the sequel.