Simmons has apparently become an overblown xenophobe. "Flashback" might have offered a look at an eerily possible dystopia, the product present-day ec...moreSimmons has apparently become an overblown xenophobe. "Flashback" might have offered a look at an eerily possible dystopia, the product present-day economic collapse, but there is no escaping the racist fear-mongering of his portrayal of a humbled America in the mid-21st century. Worse than racist, many details are bewilderingly goofy: for instance, the supposedly badass holographic t-shirt of czar Vladimir Putin coveted by the teenage gang (who also have the least convincing slang I've ever read in a skiffy novel, and damn it, that's saying something).(less)
Read some of this series when I was eager to be brainwashed into fundamentalist christianity by any old book. If memory serves, it was kind of awesome...moreRead some of this series when I was eager to be brainwashed into fundamentalist christianity by any old book. If memory serves, it was kind of awesome. Why not reread?(less)
This was fun. Sure, it's bubblegum, but Gilbert Hernandez' drawings are wonderfully trippy: a delight that will keep you turnng the pages. And though...moreThis was fun. Sure, it's bubblegum, but Gilbert Hernandez' drawings are wonderfully trippy: a delight that will keep you turnng the pages. And though thoroughly wholesome, it is always deeply weird. (less)
Good so far. This has the distinction of being the most accessible book I've read by Cherryh so far, with brief asides that explain the history of the...moreGood so far. This has the distinction of being the most accessible book I've read by Cherryh so far, with brief asides that explain the history of the Alliance-Union Universe (which apparently includes all the Cherryh books I've read previously). I'd recommend it to those who'd never read her, because I could have used the context included herein when puzzling over parts of "The Faded Sun" and "Serpent's Reach".
"The Betrayal" ends on a fairly minor note, and withholds the introduction of pivotal new characters (or doesn't really develop those introduced) until near its end. Now, why is that, you ask? It's 'cause the novel Cyteen was spilt into three books only because it's so damn long. Consequently, a grade and a review (however inarticulate) will be forthcoming to all those waiting with doubtlessly baited breath only when the whole shebang has been read. Til then, chickadees. Til then.(less)
I've enjoyed Moore's stint writing for Swamp Thing, but I enjoyed his approach more when it was more episodic. The seven issues collected here (and th...moreI've enjoyed Moore's stint writing for Swamp Thing, but I enjoyed his approach more when it was more episodic. The seven issues collected here (and the seven issues before, more or less) have been building up to a Big Damn Apocalyptic Climax, and I confess that I have been rolling my eyes with each epic escalation. Now, anyways, we've come to the end, and it can't help but be a little underwhelming. The introduction of John Constantine has offset this portentiousness and allowed for more humor; still, Constantine is the intrument through whom Moore has unspooled this whole cumbersome story arc, so I haven't warmed to the character entirely.(less)
A bildungsroman from a Brave New World style future. Cherryh excels at writing from a child's perspective and she can create excellent charcters with...moreA bildungsroman from a Brave New World style future. Cherryh excels at writing from a child's perspective and she can create excellent charcters with an economy of words. Only slightly less compelling are the interstellar politics and the byzantine manipulations that make up much of the plot, as this requires lots of context and thus greatly contributes to the novel's overlength.(less)
Amusing moments can't sustain this odd lark of a story, about an eccentric restauranteur and his assistant being kidnapped by alien fat men to take pa...moreAmusing moments can't sustain this odd lark of a story, about an eccentric restauranteur and his assistant being kidnapped by alien fat men to take part in a pangalactic cooking contest.
To be sure, this is every bit as anarchic and playful as the other two stories I've read by Pinkwater, but it never connects; perhaps this is the peril of the one-joke premise. There is only a very slight story in the midst of all this silliness, and there is scant characterization spared for any of the characters, save perhaps Sargon, the leader of the fat space pirates, who is a funny, lively creation. (less)
Foster's first novel has the earmarks of a young and undisciplined talent. There are a wealth of astounding passages, and Foster has the wit to take h...moreFoster's first novel has the earmarks of a young and undisciplined talent. There are a wealth of astounding passages, and Foster has the wit to take his characters into dark and unexpected places. Once the characters are there, however... well, the plot is wrapped up in a fashion at once frustratingly opaque and altogether too neat.
I'd say Foster is also rather too much in the thrall of Pynchon; at this point there are only hints of an original voice, and the emulation of this idol yields a novel rather like a bloated "Crying of Lot 49". I've yet to complete "Infinite Jest", but I may as well have bit the bullet and finished that tome rather than taking this detour, which I deem inessential though not unrewarding.(less)
Not just any writer excels at a zany tone. But Pinkwater, who I have been remiss in avoiding until well into my sorry adulthood, is possibly the equal...moreNot just any writer excels at a zany tone. But Pinkwater, who I have been remiss in avoiding until well into my sorry adulthood, is possibly the equal of my long-time favorite Douglas Adams. "Young Adult Novel", the first story of Pinkwater's I've read, was like nothing else I've read: a unique, slightly twisted story from a more than slightly twisted mind.
"The Avocado of Death" is more conventional; uh oh, hey, "conventional" was too good a word there, because the book is in part a comic riff on the conventions of mystery and horror fiction. Other writers admittedly have done this kind of thing before; it is at times as though Pinkwater had taken the bare bones of a Sherlock Holmes story and made it into a sort of madlib, with the central macguffin turned into an enigmatic avocado and the names of characters made sillier. But Pinkwater's flair for the absurd is unimpeachable, whether he's writinmg of the prosaic or the off-the-wall. In this author's hands the familiar horrors of high school are just as hilarious a little moments of unadulterated nonsense, as when our Dr. Watson surrogate, in hot pursuit of the villain, takes to barking like a pack of angry dogs.
Sadly, I have not boiled the distinction between labored quirk and zany humor down to a neat little formula. It's all a matter of taste, I guess.(less)
Peck asserts that evil is a personality trait that can be diagnosed clinically. He is smart enough to realize on some level the fundamental absurdity...morePeck asserts that evil is a personality trait that can be diagnosed clinically. He is smart enough to realize on some level the fundamental absurdity of this assertion, and so (sigh) the book equivocates on this point endlessly. Adding to the static is a confusion between human evil and supernatural evil, complete with a glowing gloss-over of his observation of two exorcisms.
Considered out of the context of the rest of this drivel, the chapter "MyLai: An Examination of Group Evil" is insightful and worth reading.(less)
Interesting and conceived with a wealth of ideas, but seriously flawed. The most glaring of these flaws is the fact that we are not given the context...moreInteresting and conceived with a wealth of ideas, but seriously flawed. The most glaring of these flaws is the fact that we are not given the context to understand what the hell is happening until a rather pat conclusion that refuses to mesh well with much of what has come before. Initially the lack of context puts us in the narrator's shoes and helps set up some suspense. The WTF of waking up on a derelict starship with no memory of who you are or what anything is while all sorts of high-tech systems go insanely haywire around you is keenly felt. And when the narrator discovers a significant tidbit about his identity, it's a moment that packs a punch. If Bear had wrapped the book up there, you'd have a novella of 100 pages or so that I would rate fairly highly, even if there would be no resolution to the plot or a number of other mysteries. For all the wheel-spinning that ensues for the rest of the book, I'd say the sacrifice would be worthwhile.(less)
"Hey, this was alright, considering that its a novelization of The Abyss and all." Surely this is backhanded praise, but Card, who I've yet to get int...more"Hey, this was alright, considering that its a novelization of The Abyss and all." Surely this is backhanded praise, but Card, who I've yet to get into ("Ender's Game" is a perennial favorite among people who don't ordinarily like science fiction, but...), invests effort beyond the call of duty for a meager paycheck such as this and still maintains a sort of dignity, unlike, say, my old punching bag Alan Dean Foster.(less)
Anyone can write a dystopia. (Okay, yes, that is a brazen opening, and patently false to boot; my dystopian scifi novel is going over like a lead zepp...moreAnyone can write a dystopia. (Okay, yes, that is a brazen opening, and patently false to boot; my dystopian scifi novel is going over like a lead zeppelin, after all. Sorry, we'll begin again.)
Write about a dystopia, and your subject matter provides you with a dramatic impetus. Perhaps your protagonist will have the scales lifted from his eyes and will see the everyday atrocities of his world afresh, and then he'll fight back, man, he'll fight for his freedom and all that shit. Perhaps like Offred in "The Handmaid's Tale" the protagonist will come to accept the brave new world around her, and come to think according to its philosophies and behave according to its rules. Maybe the corruption of a wicked world will ultimately cause a character we think of as moral and good to do wicked things. You get the idea.
How do you write about utopia, though? While the hidden dangers of dystopia can be fodder for all sorts of plotting, utopia by comparison seems static; since everything's so great and all, nobody is going to feel the need to shake things up. How do you dramatize utopia? It would be a challenge, but a challenge that Iain Banks is up for.
Now after all that build-up I must hedge a bit. Minor but necessary hedging. It won't take but a bit.
I have thus far read five of Banks' Culture novels (the Culture being Banks' utopian creation, a galaxy-wide multi-racial commune, of sorts, which has dispensed with the vulgarities of money and government) and in only three of the five does any action take place within the Culture itself. The bulk of each novel takes place on outside the fringes of our utopia, where things are considerably less great, but considerably less static. (This is perhaps necessary from a marketing standpoint; not many readers browsing the Skiffy shelves at Barnes 'n' Noble are gonna pick up a book expecting a futuristic variation of, say, "Emma", "Satyricon" or Jeeves and Wooster ("Use of Weapons" has a few uproariously funny moments that are not unlike Wodehouse writing science fiction). No, if you write science fiction, you've got to bring lasers and shit to the table.) What we see of the Culture is mostly their Contact division, which fulfills duties ambassadorial and military; Contact tries to solve conflicts peaceably, but when those tactics fail their Special Circumstances branch is called in to do the Culture's dirty work.
Immediately we see an incongruity between what the Culture practices and what it preaches. Dedicated to nonviolence, but willing to use violence to achieve its end. Pledged to enabling its citizens to enjoy lives of perfect freedom, but willing to employ them unwitting in its Machiavellian schemes. This is not a fuzzy pipe-dream utopia where everything is hunky dory, but a pragmatic entity; even in the best of all possible worlds, somebody is going to find themselves on the short end of the stick (and be wary of that stick, as it might well be sharpened to a point).
I often think of the Culture as a first-world power, exploiting and manipulating its poorer neighbors for its own gain. I don't think Banks would disagree with the comparison, but it is plainly a world forged according to his convictions. The savage worlds visited upon by Special Circumstances may war amongst themselves as a result, but a civilized order rises from the chaos more often than not, and in the space of a millennium or so that civilization will be ready and willing to enter into the Culture. Often in science fiction we stumble across a seemingly ideal world that in reality proves horrific; utopia turns out to be dystopia in disguise. Banks allows us to see the Culture with more ambiguity, posing a question we can never comfortably answer: is the Culture's utilitarian goodwill worth the quotidian horror it may bring?
That question has never been more insistent than it is in "Use of Weapons". (less)
This collection flirts at times with a supernatural horror out of Poe or Lovecraft, but this influence is perhaps a little naked and, less forgivably,...moreThis collection flirts at times with a supernatural horror out of Poe or Lovecraft, but this influence is perhaps a little naked and, less forgivably, pales in comparison to the real deal. "The Howling Tower" and "The Seven Black Priests" come closest to hitting that sweet spot. "The Sunken Land" is a bit like "The Shadow over Innsmouth" but with an ending that seriously underwhelms. "Bazaar of the Bizarre" has an anti-capitalist message that is goofy even to this avowed socialist and undermines the threat and mystery of its antagonists, the Devourers.
You know, "Thieves House" was good, too, a short sequel to "Ill Met In Lankhmar" that captured the original's swashbuckling zest and had some spooky moments besides. Overall, I'd say this was a mixed bag, and a few of the stories I thought were kind of a chore, mostly the framing narratives of "The Circle Curse" and "The Price of Pain-Ease", which attempt to force a character arc upon the other stories that just isn't there.(less)
**spoiler alert** This was not as godawful as The Face, but the self-indulgence on display is gob-smacking. Koontz' prose is in its full florid flower...more**spoiler alert** This was not as godawful as The Face, but the self-indulgence on display is gob-smacking. Koontz' prose is in its full florid flower, and the author can't restrain himself from some risible fantasy-casting (you know, for when they make the movie). And this is a first: the villain is an evil egghead who, ahem, experiences a nocturnal emission in his sensory deprivation chamber while mulling his evil plan.