“SF/F/H”, the holy trinity of genre fiction, my neck of the woods for reading. I read a hell of lot of sci-fi (SF), I read about a couple of fantasy (“SF/F/H”, the holy trinity of genre fiction, my neck of the woods for reading. I read a hell of lot of sci-fi (SF), I read about a couple of fantasy (F) titles a year, but I've been neglecting the horror fiction (H) genre in recent years. The reason is that beside Stephen King I don't tend to hear much about exciting new horror titles. Sci-fi and fantasy books win the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards and I am always aware of the winners. As far as I know the equivalent award for horror fiction is the Stoker Award and somehow people don’t seem to talk about them very much. Anyway, to cut a long story short I miss reading horror fiction and want to get back to it.
Ghost Story is Peter Straub’s best known and most popular book, I remember reading it in my teens when it was in the bestsellers list, I remember liking it but for the life of me cannot remember any of the details. Having just reread it this is not so surprising as this is quite a complex story and the title is somewhat misleading. The book is divided into several parts with a nonlinear timeline. It starts off intriguingly with a 24 pages prologue about a man who has kidnapped a strange little girl but the kidnapper is more afraid of the kidnappee than the other way around. The girl seems to take it all in stride and may, in fact, not be a girl at all. After this prologue the story goes back to a few years earlier where a group of for elderly gentlemen meet on a regular basis to share ghost stories which may or may not be true. They call themselves “The Chowder Society”, apparently there is some kind of therapeutic value for them in telling these stories; there has been an undertone of fear in this little club since one of their members died under mysterious circumstances at a party while in the company of an actress who disappeared.
The next part of the book tells the story of Donald Wanderley, the child kidnapper from the prologue. He is a nephew of the dead club member of the Chowder Society and an author of a horror novel. After publication of his book he took a temporary job teaching at Berkeley, there he meets and falls madly in love with a mysterious beautiful girl. They get on famously, make wedding plans and one day she just disappears; next thing he knows she meets his brother David in another town, they fall in love and soon David dies under mysterious circumstances. The girl disappears again.
Ghost Story is not a whodunit, but it is not really about ghosts (though a few do show up). The story is quite a complex but not at all hard to follow. A creepy atmosphere pervades the entire book and the reader what is going on with the disappearing girls and the dead people they leave behind. It is meticulously written by Straub. The supernatural element often has a hallucinogenic feel to it and the climax is quite rousing. The characters are well drawn but not particularly memorable. I find that Straub’s storytelling is not as taut as it could be and the pacing drags a little in the earlier parts of the book; too many scenes of the old gents pottering around grumbling. His brand of horror is subtle and often psychological, there is very little in the gore department.
If you are looking for an elegantly written, unusual and complex horror story this is for you, but how many people are looking for such a thing?...more
Let’s get one thing clear Dandelion Wine is not science fiction, it is not exactly fantasy either, though there is some element of magic realism to itLet’s get one thing clear Dandelion Wine is not science fiction, it is not exactly fantasy either, though there is some element of magic realism to it. So if you are a fan of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi books like Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, or his fantasy Something Wicked This Way Comes, and you are looking for more in that fantastical vein, Dandelion Wine may disappoint you. The best mental preparation is to forget about genre and just let Bradbury tell his story in that uniquely beautiful way he does.
“Somehow the people who made tennis shoes knew what boys needed and wanted. They put marshmallows and coiled springs in the soles and they wove the rest out of grasses bleached and fired in the wilderness. Somewhere deep in the soft loam of the shoes the thin hard sinews of the buck deer were hidden. The people that made the shoes must have watched a lot of winds blow the trees and a lot of rivers going down to the lakes. Whatever it was, it was in the shoes, and it was summer.”
If one adjective can describe Dandelion Wine it would be “whimsical”. This book is not really about anything, but in some ways it is also about everything. On the surface it does not seem to be about anything because nothing particularly dramatic, strange or exciting happen in it. At the same time, looking at it another way, it seems to be about everything in so far as it covers a wide spectrum of the human experience; growing up, growing old, making friends, losing friends, acceptance of old age and of death etc.
While Dandelion Wine is a novel, not an anthology, it is episodic in structure and reads a little like an interrelated collection of short stories. That said it seems more cohesive as a novel than The Martian Chronicles; perhaps because it features one central character, twelve year old Douglas Spaulding. Most of the novel is seen through his eyes though there are parts where other characters briefly take centre stage as protagonists. The story is set in Green Town, Illinois in the summer of 1928 where brand spanking new tennis shoes seem to have a life of their own when you put them on, where a man constructs a Happiness Machine that almost works, where a time machine sort of exists and many other magical things occur which are only magical if you look at them the right way.
The most memorable chapter deals with a serial killer called The Lonely One and his creepy stalking of a girl who may be too brave for her own good. If this sounds like some James Patterson style nastiness it really is not, the brief episode is atmospheric and almost scary but done in the best possible taste. I also love the poignant story about a pair of “star-crossed lovers”, one born too early, the other too late; and the story of an old lady who learns to accept her age through some annoying meddling kids. The coming of age stories of Douglas Spaulding and his brother are charming but they did not really grab me as my childhood was nothing like theirs.
As always Bradbury’s prose manages to be highly lyrical without any inclusion of highfalutin words that would have you reaching for the dictionary. This is the sort of book to curl up with and read at a leisurely pace. At less than 300 pages you could read it in a day or two but this is not a book to simply plow through. You would get more from it if you relax, soak in the atmosphere and the nostalgia, perhaps pausing now and then to reflect on episodes of your life that the book reminds you of. My only criticism of Dandelion Wine is that it may be too nice, sweet and gentle for my taste (serial killer notwithstanding).
“Hurt so good Come on baby, make it hurt so good” - John Mellencamp
WUT? Well, reading Thomas Hardy novels always poses this kind of challenge. They hur“Hurt so good Come on baby, make it hurt so good” - John Mellencamp
WUT? Well, reading Thomas Hardy novels always poses this kind of challenge. They hurt, and yet I keep coming back to him because they are indeed good and this kind of hurt is like a good exercise for your EQ. In term of language I don’t think Hardy’s writing is particularly difficult to access. The more challenging aspects of his books are the initial meticulous scene setting and characters introduction chapters, and of course the miserable situations that his characters get into.
“Tragedy When the feeling's gone and you can't go on It's tragedy”
Sorry, I just had a sudden attack of Beegeesitis. Anyway, I am always glad(ish) to be back in Hardyverse, better known as Wessex, a fictional region somewhere in the south of England. A lot of pastoral mayhem seems to take place here so it is probably not an ideal vacation destination (non-existence notwithstanding). In The Return of the Native Hardy again depicts what bad marriages can do. Clym Yeobright, the returning native of the novel’s title, marries the almost preternaturally beautiful Eustacia Vye who is very discontent with her rural surroundings. She yearns for the bright lights, big cities, iStores etc., preferably in Paris. However, she is not a femme fatale, she does her best to be a good, loving wife. Unfortunately her best is of a disastrously low standard and tragedy ensues.
Much of the tragedy stems from people being unable to speak their minds, to be honest, sincere and – most of all – forgiving. Where this novel really resonate with me is the relationship between Clym and his mother. They have a very close, loving relationship until Eustacia (inadvertently) comes between them. The mother, Mrs. Yeobright, has some very strong prejudices about people of ill repute and is very quick to pass judgment on them, her unyielding mentality eventually leads to her downfall. Eustacia’s inability to settle down, to compromise with her circumstances also leads to a lot of grief and much gnashing of teeth.
As usual Hardy’s characters are very believable and vivid, and it is interesting that there is no actual villain in this book. Some characters become antagonists of sort merely through very unwise decision making and impropriety. The hero of the book is also not Clym the protagonist, but a sincere, helpful and humble man called Diggory Venn. Who is a “reddleman” by profession. Basically he goes around marking flocks of sheep with a red colour (a mineral called "reddle"). Not much call for such services these days I imagine, but it makes him a fair amount of money, and also causes his entire body to be red coloured. It plays hell with his attempts at courting a certain young lady but he eventually finds a way. According to Wikipedia Hardy had a tack on a happy ending for commercial purposes so not all the characters are down in the dumps by the end of the book. Left to his own devices he would rather depress the hell out of his readers.
Over all this is a typically depressing book by Thomas Hardy. Yet I really like it and recommend it for people who are not overly sensitive or those who are too insensitive and need to emote a little.
“Life's a piece of shit, when you look at it Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true You'll see its all a show, keep 'em laughin as you go Just remember that the last laugh is on you” - Monty Python
Well, after all that I don’t have any room left to quote an eloquent passage from this book. There are always plenty of those in a Hardy novel (so that’s hardly novel!)....more
I started reading sci-fi quite intensively in the 80s (as if my life depended on it) and if you had asked me at the time who my favorite of the Big ThI started reading sci-fi quite intensively in the 80s (as if my life depended on it) and if you had asked me at the time who my favorite of the Big Three of Science Fiction is I would have said Robert A. Heinlein. He was, I thought, the funniest, the liveliest, the least dry, and basically the most badass of the Three. In recent years have been re-reading a lot of classic sci-fi and my answer today would be different. I would place Isaac Asimov first then Arthur C. Clarke and Heinlein would be trailing them a little. I may be a little unfair to Heinlein here as recently I have been reading his less well received books from the 80s, Friday, and the dreadful I Will Fear No Evil. Of course I remember very well how much I loved Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and The Puppet Masters when I read them. The funny thing is I remember loving Starship Troopers too.
Starship Troopers starts off with a bang where the protagonist Juan Rico is about to go on a raid against some aliens called The Skinnies. Scenes of combat, explosions, heroism, and death ensued. On the second chapter the flashback from the beginning of Rico’s military career begins. Most of the novel’s narrative is centered on Rico’s military life. As I am not a fan of military combat scenes I did not feel particularly involved with the first chapter but things really do pick up with the story of Rico’s boot camp experiences. I quite enjoy the “Drill Sergeant Nasty” trope. Where the Drill Sergeant spends all his time cussing and cursing at the trainees and generally making their lives miserable for their own good, and to weed out those who are not tough enough to cope with the rigors of the training. The details of the training, the future military technology and Heinlein’s jaunty, snarky narrative tone and dialogue makes this section of the book fast paced and enjoyable. This is just as well as the boot camp chapters takes up most of the first half of the book. I expect the storyline to become even livelier subsequent to the boot camp, especially as I already knew some insect-like aliens are about to make an appearance.
I was very surprised at how the second half of the book turned out. A long section of this part of the book concerns Rico’s training at the Officer Candidate School. The lecturing scenes are Heinlein at his didactic worst. Even though Heinlein can be very persuasive I was not entirely convinced of the political and philosophical points he is making here. Worse than that, I was a little bored of reading these thinly disguised lectures. It seems to me that the pacing of the novel grinds to a halt at this point and Heinlein has sacrificed the storytelling to espouse his personal views.
The last section of the book where Rico has graduated from the Officer Candidate School and goes on another raid to capture (literally) the brains behind the Bugs operations resumes the storyline and pick up the pacing. Unfortunately by that point the book has already lost my goodwill and I have already stopped caring about how Rico or even the rest of humanity fare. Besides, the ending of the book is inconclusive as far as the Bug War is concerned. This is not at all surprising because, in spite of initial appearances, this is not a sci-fi thriller about Humanity vs. Aliens. The aliens and their war with humanity are merely plot devices to mount Heinlein’s treatise about the value of the military and the necessity of war.
It is not my place to criticize Heinlein's views on these matters as he has clearly thought long and hard about them and I have not, but all his pontifications plays hell with the narrative flow and as a work of fiction Starship Troopers is by and large not a lot of fun to read. “Military science fiction” is hardly my favorite subgenre of sci-fi, but I did find The Forever War to be more consistently enjoyable and the author’s views more palatable without being overly didactic....more
Probably my favourite Philip K. Dick book, Goodreads' favourite too by the look of it. As you are probably aware the classic sci-fi movie Blade RunnerProbably my favourite Philip K. Dick book, Goodreads' favourite too by the look of it. As you are probably aware the classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Great as the movie is when I first saw it I was very disappointed as it bears very little resemblance to this book. The film makers jettisoned most of what makes this book so special and focused only on the android hunting aspect though at least it does explore the moral issues involved. The movie’s visuals are certainly stunning, and the world of Blade Runner is beautifully designed. However, it not the world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set in a dystopian Earth much dilapidated after “World War Terminus”, most of the populace have already emigrated to the colony on Mars. This is not a post apocalyptic setting, however, as government, the police, and businesses are still functioning though everything seems to be quite shabby. Radioactive dust has killed off most of the animals and the dust is still everywhere, not to mention the masses of “kipple”, basically rubbish that seem to grow by itself.
This coveting of animals is one very crucial aspect of the book not used in the film adaptation. Ownership of real animals (as opposed to electric ones) is a status symbol, much more so than fancy cars which nobody seems to be interested in. The protagonist Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department whose job is to hunt down and exterminate androids that escaped their life of servitude on Mars to live among humans on Earth in the guise of humans. His dream is to own a large real animal, but at his salary he has to settle for the eponymous electric sheep.
The questionable morality of hunting down androids is nicely explored here. They are machines but they are also living, thinking beings, they have souls, or in more secular term, sentience. Human life on Earth is generally miserable but they do have some interesting ways of alleviating their mood. The most direct way is by the “Penfield mood organ” with a dial for adjusting moods to numerous settings, then there is the “empathy box” that let you live the life of a Messiah while you are plugged in; entertainment on TV is basically just one show “Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends” somehow broadcasting live 24/7.
This is one of the most well written Philip K. Dick books, Dick’s writing style is often criticised as poor or clunky, and his dialogue is often said to be stilted. I think his critics are missing the charms of his minimalist prose style which is an ideal vehicle for the bizarre stories he had to tell. His admittedly stilted dialogue seems to be very fitting for the universe his often eccentric characters occupy. Also now and then he suddenly slipped in the odd poignant passages like “You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.”. He was quite capable of writing elegant prose when it suited him. However, the stories and the ideas were more important to him.
Some of the dialogue is also oddly hilarious: “I can't stand TV before breakfast.” “Dial 888,” Rick said as the set warmed. “The desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it.” “I don't feel like dialing anything at all now,” Iran said. “Then dial 3,” he said.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has some of Dick’s best characterization. The characters are more vivid than most of his other books. Deckard and the “chickenhead” (brain damaged) J.R. Isidore are particularly believable and sympathetic. The androids are generally rather callous but quite pitiful all the same. There are also moments where reality seems to wobble wonderfully in the patented PKD style but this time without the aid of any hallucinogen.
I can not praise this book enough, it really is one of the all-time greats. It is a pity that Hollywood is now planning to make Blade Runner 2 instead of making - for the first time - a faithful adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
Note: Interestingly Dick foresaw an android model called "Nexus 6", but I bet he did not imagine they would look like this....more
When I was half way through Northanger Abbey I was thinking:
“Upon my word! Half way through the book and nothing notable seems to have transpired! I wWhen I was half way through Northanger Abbey I was thinking:
“Upon my word! Half way through the book and nothing notable seems to have transpired! I was expecting Miss Austen to supply greater felicity than she has managed thus far and once again receive my complete approbation! I do declare I am awfully vexed.”
I really don’t know why I keep coming back to read Jane Austen books when they are not really suitable for my taste (if I can lay claim to possessing any). In most novels I read the stakes are very high for the protagonist, the entire world (if not the universe) is in peril and needs saving, or at least the poor guy or girl is having a very hard life and is going through the wringer to eventually emerge triumphant. Jane Austen’s characters seem to lead much more leisurely lives going for long walks and dinners, falling in and out of love and eventually falling back into love on a permanent basis. Her plot always seem fluffy and inconsequential to me. If you are an Austen fan please do not take offense, we can not all like the same thing, and I am not complete unaware of the lady’s charms.
The only Jane Austen novel that I really like is Pride and Prejudice, not surprisingly her most popular book. I have now read five of her novels and “Pride & Prej” remains the only one I would rate at 5 stars (I have to admit I have forgotten practically everything about Sense and Sensibility including the plot and the characters, Emma I remember quite well because of the movie Clueless.
Northanger Abbey started quite well with the story of Catherine Morland’s early childhood, how she is something of an ugly duckling and a tomboy. I though this is an interestingly unconventional Austen heroine. However, by the next chapter she is grown into a pretty young lady and it is business as usual; but at least she has a fondness for gothic novels, Stephen King would have been right up her alley. As I was “reading” this book in audiobook format on my commutes to and from work (an hour’s journey each way) I actually dozed of now and then as Catherine goes on long walks and dinner parties with her friends. I do reverse back to most of the parts that I dozed through though (I may have missed a few paragraphs’ worth). Even when I was awake some of the narration went into one ear and out the other as my mind wandered. In all fairness Northanger Abbey is not a boring book when I can concentrate on it I find it quite amiable and not at all unpleasant.
Anyway, things pick up considerably after the middle of book when Catherine arrives at the eponymous Northanger Abbey. I quite enjoyed Henry Tilney teasing her about the spooky goings on at the abbey in an amusing parody of gothic fiction of the time. Catherine’s “adventures” at the abbey, rummaging through things, skulking about, imagining a “murder most foul” are also tremendously mildly entertaining. Unfortunately her life was not even close to being in danger at any time and no animals were harmed during the production of this book. Her faux-pas (which I won’t elaborate upon), triggered by her overactive imagination, is also understandably mortifying.
Still Northanger Abbey is no Wuthering Heights and nothing horrible really happen, after one or two timidly spooky scenes the niceness of Austenverse reasserts itself and things work out just fine for Catherine. Is this a spoiler? Surely not! Catherine Morland is not Tess of the d'Urbervilles which I suppose is comforting if you are reading Jane Austen. At least I never thought I would see the word “Necromancer” in one of her novels, that made me chuckle.
Austen’s protagonists are usually likeable and Catherine is no exception, however, she is no Elizabeth Bennett, I find her a little too scatterbrained and too much of a wet blanket at times. As for her love interest Henry Tilney, he seems to be an Austen stock love interest character, a plot device rather than a fleshed out character. Catherine's BFF Isabella Thorpe starts off as an average chatterbox bestie character, but her subsequent gold diggery makes her much more interesting (if less appealing), her brother John seems like an ill-mannered oaf throughout, I kind of like him, his loutishness is good for a giggle.
Come to think of it perhaps I do know why I keep coming back to Jane Austen, it is not to recapture the magic of Pride and Prejudice but to enjoy her orchestration of the English language. With Jane Austen even if you don’t like the story you can still soak up the lovely and elegant narration.
Dammit I just put Mansfield Park on my reading list, somebody stop me!
Note on the audiobook This is another free Librivox audiobook read entirely by Ms. Elizabeth Klett who has done a gracious and beautiful job. As with A Room with a View she read the narration in her native American accent and the dialogues in English accent. I think a little bit of America slips in now and then but over all she did a tremendous job and her voice is nice and soothing (which is probably why I dozed off at times). (Download Link)...more
Alastair Reynolds is an author I keep coming back to like a regular customer, for the simple reason that he is among the top three best sci-fi authorsAlastair Reynolds is an author I keep coming back to like a regular customer, for the simple reason that he is among the top three best sci-fi authors working today (I have no idea who the other two are, I just estimate that if I were to do a top three ranking he would be in it).
The Prefect is set earlier in the Revelation Space timeline. This is not going to mean very much to anyone who has never read anything from Reynold’s epic Revelation Space series. That said this is a standalone book in the sense that the story is complete in itself, not part of an ongoing narrative from other books. However, to get the most out of it I would recommend that you at least read the original Revelation Space novel first to familiarize yourself with the setting. The Prefect starts off as a kind of murder mystery where the protagonist Prefect Tom Dreyfus is investigating the mass murder of the occupants of a space habitat. A Prefect is a policeman of sorts, part of a security task force that specialize in protecting the voting system of The Glitter Band (a group of 10,000 habitats). As the story unfolds it transpire that the murder is merely the beginning of a hostile takeover bid of The Glitter Band by an AI entity.
The worst thing about summarizing a Revelation Space book is that many concepts need to be explained to make any sense to the casual reader, a chore for the reviewer and the reader. It is probably more useful and practical to highlight the novel’s qualities in general terms. The Prefect then is a fast paced story of a race against time to save a huge group of space habitats from being taken over and the citizenry from being wiped out. It is an action packed but fairly complex space opera, fans of weird future tech will have a field day with things like semi-sentient whips, decapitation surgery, irremovable insect-like devices attached to people, robot weevils etc.
There are alien races in the Revelation Space universe but they are only mentioned in passing in this book. The variety of posthumans and AIs are weird enough. The characters are a little flat and generic by Reynolds’ standard, probably due to more emphasis being placed on the plot. There is an interesting exploration of the theme of what constitute a human being. Is an activated backup human consciousness a human being with rights and a soul? Or is it just software? The cases for and against are quite well presented and Reynolds leave it for you to decide.
Reynolds does not pretend to be a literary writer but I always like his clean prose style and believable dialogue. In his other books he sometimes wanders into more lyrical prose style territory but I did not notice any such passages in this book. He did however include an excellent explanation of a “ramscoop”, a sci-fi conceit I never fully understood so I would like to quote it here:
“A starship built around a single massive engine designed to suck in interstellar hydrogen and use it for reaction mass. Because it didn’t have to carry its own fuel around, it could go almost as fast as it liked, right up to the edge of light-speed.”
Generally Reynolds explains the science behind his sci-fi more successfully than most sci-fi authors. Always an advantage with this kind of hard(ish) sci-fi.
The Prefect then is another excellent piece of sci-fi from Alastair Reynolds who has yet to let me down. If space opera and sci-fi tech is your thing then this book can be highly recommended with the caveat that you have at least read Revelation Space first. For a completely standalone Reynolds book not connected to any other books, the awe-inspiring House of Suns is the best option and remains my favourite work of his.
As Horns is basically about a man who wakes up one day and finds that horns have sprouted on his head it is very tempting to start with a very lame joAs Horns is basically about a man who wakes up one day and finds that horns have sprouted on his head it is very tempting to start with a very lame joke “here is a guy who wakes up feeling horny - LOL!”. Fortunately I would never stoop to that level (plus it has already been done).
OK, so Ignatius Martin Perrish wakes up with a couple of horns and some supernatural power which most people would rather do without. Horns starts off like some dark and surreal comedy but as the story unfolds the narrative tone gradually shifts into more serious, reflective and tragic territory. Horns is the second novel by Joe Hill, also the second that I have read by him. Just last month I read Heart-Shaped Box and enjoyed it tremendously, I only quickly followed it with Horns because the movie adaptation is coming out and I don’t want to be spoiled by the trailer and other publicity.
In my review of Heart-Shaped Box I made a minor complaint to the effect that Hill’s prose style is not as refined as I would like it to be. His father is not exactly known for literary finesse but he can slip into lyrical mode when it suits him. With this book I think Hill’s writing has become more refined, there are no lyrical passages to speak of but the narrative feels more emotional and there are some nice observations like:
“The truth about music: that it was the third rail of life. You grabbed it to shock yourself out of the dull drag of hours, to feel something, to burn with all the emotions you didn’t get to experience in the ordinary run of school and TV and loading the dishwasher after dinner.”
And also some LOL comments like “He paused, considering the law in Deuteronomy that forbade clothes with mixed fibers. “Only the devil wants man to have a wide range of lightweight and comfortable styles to choose from,” he murmured at last, trying out a new proverb. “Although there may be no forgiveness for polyester. On this one matter, Satan and the Lord are in agreement.”
Horns is not fast paced like Heart-Shaped Box but it feels more substantial, more allegorical and meaningful. The origin of the supernatural element is not explained, I imagine as it is not the point of the story. The book is generally a pleasure to read though there is one chapter where the narrative switches to the villain’s point of view that I feel is longer than it needs to be. Incidentally the villain I speak of is not the devil; I wonder if the story is somehow inspired by The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil.
There is also a long section of flashback with no supernatural element that reads like a dark coming of age story that features young love, friendship, romance and bromance. I do not think Horns is a horror novel as none of it is scary to me, there are some disturbing images but nothing that puts me off my lunch. The characterization is quite well done though it seems unrealistic that nobody gives the protagonist the benefit of the doubt for the heinous crime he is accused of. I enjoy the thematic exploration of religion and religiosity, love and revenge, good and evil which makes the novel richer than I expected.
This Hugo / Nebula / Clarke combo winner just demands to be read. I have been putting it off for a while on account of the price, new books cost moreThis Hugo / Nebula / Clarke combo winner just demands to be read. I have been putting it off for a while on account of the price, new books cost more on the year of publication and I'm a skinflint. However, this book is just so damn hard to ignore. People keep going on about it in sf forums and now it is going to be a TV show! How am I going to keep up with the sci-fi Joneses if I don't read it?
Allow me to ramble on for another paragraph, I have a theory about sci-fi books which are suitable for new sci-fi readers. Some books are immediately accessible to people who have never read sci-fi before. For examples Foundation, Ready Player One and The Time Machine. On the other hand there are books like Anathem, Embassytown and Revelation Space that I think requires the reader to have cultivated a sci-fi mindset from having read quite a few books in the genre before. I think Ancillary Justice is such a book. It is full of neologisms and I believe it will be hard going for new sci-fi readers unless they are particularly intuitive.
There are a lot of wonderful sf-nal ideas in this book. The protagonist is an AI called Breq (among other names) who use to be a spaceship AI with multiple human bodies under its control. At the start of this book Breq is operating one measly human body, her spaceship body and other human bodies are all one. How this situation came about and what is Breq going to do about it is the main story arc. As for the human bodies they are nicknamed “corpse soldiers” so that should give you are clue of where they come from.
Another novelty is the usage of gender in this book, by default everybody is a “she” regardless of whether they are male of female. The gender of practically all the characters is undisclosed throughout the book though you may be able to infer some of them.
The book starts with a twin timelines of the present day and flashback, they meet somewhere after the middle of the book. I am not normally a fan of this kind of narrative structure but it is quite easy to follow here.
I have no real complaint about the prose style or the dialog but I cannot find anything notable about them either. Ann Leckie writes better prose and dialog than a lot of sci-fi authors, Stephen Baxter for example, but somehow I find Baxter to be more lively. The book is also almost completely devoid of humor which renders the main characters almost (but not quite) unsympathetic. The friendship between Breq and former captain Seivarden is nicely developed, I particularly like the former’s gradual humanization. The book is never dull but sometime on the verge of being dull; the ending is quite abrupt and leaves me a little annoyed instead of wanting more.
I can almost understand the accolade and awards this book has been getting, there is much to admire here, and I have no regret for the time I spent reading it. However, I find it to be somewhat lacking in charm. This is another case of a book being recognizably very good but “not for me”, other titles in this exclusive category are Cryptonomicon, Neuromancer and Blindsight, so I guess it is in quite good company.
About 3.5 stars or 6/10 or some such meaningless measurement....more
I read a lot of Anne Rice in the 80s, both her Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witches series. I always find her very readable and there is alwaysI read a lot of Anne Rice in the 80s, both her Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witches series. I always find her very readable and there is always some dark beauty in her prose. However, like most series the quality tend to drop off after three or four volumes, the authors either begin to repeat themselves or try something radically different or experimental which does not work. As far as The Vampire Chronicles is concerned I think Ms. Rice has done a bit of both, and I lost interest after the fifth volume Memnoch the Devil.
Most readers of The Vampire Chronicles agree that the first three books of the series are the best. I would go as far as to say that these are the best vampire fiction I have ever read. Bram Stoker has nothing on Anne Rice as far as literary talent is concerned. Stephenie Meyer does not even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
OK, enough useless preamble. I reread The Queen of the Damned as part of my Halloween horror binge. I have long neglected the horror genre in favor of sci-fi, fantasy and even mainstream fiction. It never occurred to me to reread the first two Vampire Chronicles books Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat because I still remember the stories very well even decades after reading them (the Tom Cruise movie adaptation is even more fresh in my memory). The Queen of the Damned however, is only remembered in term of broad plot outline, and I the denouement totally escaped me. I think this is because there is so much in this book. It is more epic is scale and more complex in structure and characterization.
In the previous book The Vampire Lestat Lestat, the rebellious star of the Chronicles has become a rock star with hit albums (I think he made some kind of hair metal with weird lyrics). His vampiric brand of metal mayhem has the unfortunate effect of waking up Akasha the original vampire, with megalomaniac tendencies. Soon she is dispatching young (or crappy) vampires left and right with her mental powers and human males in general are on her (s)hit list. Who can stop the most powerful vampire ever? I won’t spoil it for you but it is probably not whoever it is you are thinking of.
There are long flashback chapters where the narrative is set in ancient Egyptian time where the human queen Akasha is turned into the first vampire almost by accident. This part of the tale involves good and evil spirits, cannibalism and curses, it really is quite riveting. The sections set in the modern world is almost as exciting, Anne Rice’s world building and vampire mythos is some of the most vivid fantastical creation ever. I particularly like the Talamasca, the secret society for investigation of the paranormal where Fox Mulder would feel right at home.
Anne Rice’s prose always go down well with me, I particularly like her description of the elation and shame of vampire feeding:
“When they drank the blood they felt ecstasy. Never had they known such pleasure, not in their beds, not at the banquet table, not when drunk with beer or wine. That was the source of the shame. It hadn't been the killing; it had been the monstrous feeding. It had been the pleasure.”
Her descriptions of characters are always quite vivid:
“Her skin was white and hard and opaque as it had always been. Her cheek shone like pearl as she smiled, her dark eyes moist and enlivened as the flesh puckered ever so slightly around them. They positively glistered with vitality.”
The Queen of the Damned is definitely worth rereading if you have read it ages ago like I have, of course if you have not read it before it is even more of an imperative, though I would recommend reading the previous two books in the chronicles first. This should not be much of a hardship as they are seriously gripping reads. That said if you were to read it as a standalone I think it would still be quite understandable.
Joe Hill, definitely “a chip off the old block”, the old block being mega-author Stephen King of course. From what I have read Hill tried his best toJoe Hill, definitely “a chip off the old block”, the old block being mega-author Stephen King of course. From what I have read Hill tried his best to keep his relationship with Stephen King a secret and forge his own career as an author. Happily he became a successful author before the identity of his Dad was publicly disclosed by Variety magazine. Heart-Shaped Box is his first novel, as of now I think he has four to his name, excluding comics and anthologies.
Basically Heart-Shaped Box is a story of vengeful ghost, but there is a lot more to the story than that. The setup is quite original, the protagonist is a rock star who likes to collect weird macabre things, one day he buys a ghost off an eBay-like online shopping website. The ghost is bought in the form of an item that belongs to the dead man, in this case a suit that comes in a heart-shaped box; much grief ensues. It probably is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the suit is more important than the eponymous heart-shaped box, the box just becomes a creepy motif after it and similarly shaped boxes are mentioned a few times.
The less I elaborate about the plot the better I think, as the story takes many unexpected twists and turns and Hill’s conception of what a ghost can do is quite original and disturbing. I enjoy scary horror novels but most such novels are like hamburgers, easily consumed with some pleasure but not very memorable. For a horror novel to be memorable it has to transcend just being scary, it has to have characters worth caring about. This is why Stephen King’s best books are head and shoulders above the majority of horror fiction, he writes characters the reader cares about. I imagine Hill learned this lesson well from his father. His protagonist Jude is a flawed individual with a lot of issues but is a good man underneath all the rock star callousness. His girlfriend and secondary character is equally damaged in her own way (not to mention very potty mouthed) but when push comes to shove really rises to the occasion. I actually worry about these characters and that is the highest accolade I can give to a work of fiction. Even Jude’s dogs are endowed with personalities and heroic qualities. The author’s fondness for dogs is obvious and it is something I can really identify with. The sense of compassion in the book also makes it much more meaningful than the average horror novel.
Hill’s prose style in this book is straight forward and without frills or literary flourishes, what little humor that can be found within the book are mostly through the dialogue. The narrative moves at a breakneck pace and I gobbled then entire book up in just a few days, much more quickly than I normally read. Personally I am hoping to see more finesse in the prose style in his subsequent books but I have no doubt at all that I will be reading them; all of them. It is October 26 as I write and I can heartily recommend Heart-Shaped Box for your Halloween read. If you are reading this in February or whatever I’d still recommend it for a few hours of excellent and creepy escapism....more
“There is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker's perspective and whi
“There is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker's perspective and whispers terrible hints of obscure cosmic relationships and unnameable realities behind the protective illusions of common vision.”
That little passage explains why Lovecraft’s characters often go mad at the mere sight of blasphemous eldritch monstrosities from beyond; something I often wondered about. It is also a fine example of his penchant for convoluted sentence structures.
When I read At the Mountains of Madness I felt that Lovecraft is preferable in smaller doses, that is when his stories are not novel length. It seems that when he gives himself room with the novel format he overindulges his tendency to ramble, overwrite and include unnecessary details. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward reinforces this impression to me.
This is basically about an undead necromancer called Joseph Curwen who is foolishly resurrected by his descendent the eponymous Charles Dexter Ward through evocations, and other black magic shenanigans. Curwen of course wrecks all kinds of havoc because you don’t come back to life via black magic to do charity work.
One thing I noticed about reading Lovecraft is that the creepy atmosphere is more effective if you read the stories in a quiet room, unfortunately I read this book in a living room while family members are watching TV and it rendered the creep factor completely ineffective. I also find the depiction of Curwen’s early life fairly mundane and less than riveting. The usual Lovecraftian tropes are all accounted for, the awful smells, the creepy noises, the creaking, the screaming and what not. The “unmentionable” Necronomicon by Mad Paula Abdul Alhazred is of course mentioned. Poor Cthulhu does not get a look in though his cousin Yog-Sothoth is often referred to.
Lovecraft’s idiosyncratic prose style can be both entertaining and frustrating. As I mentioned before he is more readable in short story format. At novel length he often repeats himself with the description of funny smells, funny noises etc. The faux-archaic English passages are also hard to decipher. The climax of the story is unexpected though, it makes the whole thing almost worthwhile. I also particularly like this passage:
“It was a godless sound; one of those low-keyed, insidious outrages of Nature which are not meant to be. To call it a dull wail, a doom-dragged whine, or a hopeless howl of chorused anguish and stricken flesh without mind would be to miss its quintessential loathsomeness and soul-sickening overtones.”
He could have been reviewing a Justine Bieber album here.
It is almost a pity that the story of Frankenstein is so well known because far too many people neglect to bother reading Mary Shelley’s novel under tIt is almost a pity that the story of Frankenstein is so well known because far too many people neglect to bother reading Mary Shelley’s novel under the assumption that they already know the story. This is a shame because Frankenstein is beautifully written, very dark and scary but also quite poignant.
Most people have an image of Frankenstein’s Monster as a shambling massive thing with bolts on its neck, going around mumbling GAAHHH GAAAAAH!!! and snapping people’s necks because that is how he rolls. Some people even call the Monster “Frankenstein” which is really a faux pas as that is the name of Victor Frankenstein who created him (though if things had turned out differently and Victor had adopted The Monster as a family member then he would have been rightly called Mr. Frankenstein!).
What happen to Victor’s nearest and dearest is quite horrifying even though all the violence happen “off screen” in that the Monster’s murderous rampage is not described in the narrative, the reader are only shown the final result. Somehow this makes the story even more believable and creepy.
The way I see it the real monster of the story is Victor not The Monster. Imagine how things would have worked out if instead of making a run for it when the Monster wakes up he welcomes The Monster into the world and help him to fins a place in society. If he is really so ugly just buy him a mask and a hat or something. His reaction also seems to be illogical, while he was stitching the Monster together he must have noticed how fugly the poor thing looks, how is it that he only realizes it as the thing was waking up? How the Monster learns to speak, read and write entirely from observing some neighbors is also not quite believable, it reminds me of Tarzan figuring out how to read all by himself in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes; rather preposterous. That said Mary Shelly’s prose is so beautifully written I was quite willing to suspend disbelief.
Victor is an obsessed mad scientist who runs away from his responsibility and in spite of advance warnings still endangered his family and friends. The Monster is surprisingly eloquent in his speech and comes across as very pitiful and poorly treated by everyone he come across; by his “father” most of all. One point he often comes back to is that he never asked to be born and that if he can not get the love he yearns for he will take revenge as a substitute:
"Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed.”
“There is love in me the likes of which you've never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape. If I am not satisfied int he one, I will indulge the other.”
Poor bastard. There are myriad themes in this book but the most salient one for me is prejudice based on physical appearances. The Monster wants to be loved and accepted can only take so many rejections and abuse before he goes berserk. Victor gave him life but denies him everything else, he is the real villain of the piece.
Mary’s Shelly’s prose is lyrical to the point of being flowery at times. Besides being a morality tale Frankenstein is also a prototype science fiction book, it is amazing that it is written by the wife of a famous poet. It is a terrible shame that she did not write more novels of this kind. Children may find the language a little too flowery and the narrative does go to some very dark places. However, I would recommend this book to just about everybody else. Certainly I would like to read it again one day.
Note: This book was “listened to” in audiobook format, nicely and graciously read by Caden Vaughn Clegg for Librivox.org (free public domain audiobooks). Thank you sir! (Download link)...more
I have a bee in my bonnet that I would like to deal with first. I tend to feel annoyed (even though I shouldn’t) when people ask for sci-fi recommendaI have a bee in my bonnet that I would like to deal with first. I tend to feel annoyed (even though I shouldn’t) when people ask for sci-fi recommendations with the caveat that the book being recommended must not be more than 10 years old. The reason given for this clause is usually because the science is “wrong”, there is no internet, or history did not turn out the way the author depicted in the book. WUT? I would like to reiterate that it is not a sci-fi author’s job to predict the future, the whole point is to speculate. Anybody who want to get into reading sci-fi but steadfastly refuse to read the classics from the 50s, 60s etc. is really doing themselves a disfavor and missing out on some of the greatest sf stories and ideas ever written in the history of mankind.
Which brings us to Alfred’s Bester’s The Demolished Man, first published in 1953. Read this or his other classic The Stars My Destination and you will understand why I insist sci-fi readers should never neglect older science fiction. These are two terrific stories that stand the test of time.
In The Stars My Destination Bester posits a strange future society where everybody can teleport using the power of their mind. In The Demolished Man not everybody is a telepath but they are quite common place and can be found in all kinds of profession. Boy, did he get the future “wrong”! In lesser hands this conceit would never work but Alfred’s Bester was able to spin a great yarn from this fairly simple premise.
The Demolished Man is an “inverted detective story” in the reader is immediately told who the murderer is, but the difficulty for our hero is how to catch the devious bastard. The murderer Ben Reich is a “normal”, non-telepathic person but he is extremely smart and is able to foil even mind reading policemen. For example to avoid his mind being read by telepathic police he goes to a commercial jingle writer to play him a jingle that lodges in his brain after just one listening and bounces around it in an incessant looping playback. The hero policeman Lincoln Powell can barely keep up with him even with all the telepathic power (and manpower) under his disposal. The climax of the book is wonderfully surreal and reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven and PKD’s Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. A friend recently told me that I sometime inadvertently put spoilers in my reviews so I’d better not elaborate any more on this point.
Bester’s writing style reminds me of noir detective fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler, with the clipped dialogue and witty banter. The book is quite short so there is not a lot of room for character development but the protagonist and antagonist are quite complex and believable characters.
All in all a gripping, entertaining and very readable sci-fi classic that should please all sci-fi fans....more
I like to start a book knowing almost nothing about it. With Madame Bovary the only thing I knew was that it’s a French classic and often cited one ofI like to start a book knowing almost nothing about it. With Madame Bovary the only thing I knew was that it’s a French classic and often cited one of the all-time great novels. I knew absolutely nothing about the plot going in, though I expected it to be centered on the eponymous Madame Bovary, whoever she is. I imagined she is probably a French equivalent of Jane Eyre or Tess of the d'Urbervilles. I could not have been more wrong.
The protagonist Emma Bovary turns out to be a kind of anti-heroine and the novel is so downbeat it makes Tess of the d'Urbervilles look like Three Men in a Boat. Basically Emma Bovary is a girl who married a dull country doctor just so she could leave home but soon becomes a very desperate house wife. The story is about her infidelity and the consequences to herself and those around her. She seems to imagine herself as the protagonist of a soap opera; this is apparently from reading too much romantic fiction, Fifty Shades of Grey would have been right up her alley.
Her husband Charles Bovary is a hopeless cuckold, a decent fellow but in his way just as delusional as his wife. As far as I can tell he is the only sympathetic character in the novel (not including his young daughter Berthe who has very few speaking parts). Things do not turn out well for anybody except Monsieur Homais the pompous and egotistical chemist.
This is not an easy book to read (or listen to in my case) as there is not a single character to empathize with, even the nice Charles Bovary is too idiotic and delusional to generate much sympathy. Of course the author Gustave Flaubert was well aware of this, the reader is not supposed to like any of them. Their behavior and situation only serve to convey his disapproval of the French society of the time, particularly the bourgeoisie and romanticism.
The great attraction of reading fiction is to follow the characters’ thought processes which are often very alien to my own, to be somebody else for a while. I found Emma Bovary’s way of thinking very selfish and immoral but nonetheless quite fascinating. Unfortunately the other characters are not so interesting and when Emma is “off stage” the narrative becomes rather plodding.
The translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling is quite readable but I have no idea how good it is as I don’t read French. There are some nice lines like “a demand for money being, of all the winds that blow upon love, the coldest and most destructive” and I imagine the original French version would have been more of a pleasure to read, though I would not start taking French lessons just to read this book. The Count of Monte Cristo may be, but not this one.
If you like morality tales this book is for you, if you are looking for some kind of page turner this is not it. I listened to Madame Bovary on a free audiobook from Librivox, unfortunately this is not one of their better offerings. It is a multiple readers one, and some of the readers are just awful and incomprehensible. I had to supplement a few chapters in print (e-book) format to follow the narrative of a few chapters. If you get Amazon’s free Kindle e-book edition you can get the Audible audiobook with it for $2.99. I wish I had done that!...more
These last two books read more like a duology than the third and fourth installations of a series. The Cantos is often discussed in PrintSF, my sci-fi books discussions online community. The second half of the series tend to be quite polarizing. Some people love it, some say it is disappointing, one reader even calls it a bad fan fiction of the first two books. The Goodreads average rating for these last two books however, indicate that they are quite well liked by the majority. In my opinion they are well worth reading if you like Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, but they are not sf classics like these earlier books.
This is not one of those series that can be read out of sequence, in fact The Rise of Endymion continues directly from the previous volume Endymion. After narrowly escaping capture by the Pax church state and their secret partner the insidious and malevolent mega AI entity the TechnoCore, our heroes the messianic Aenea and Raul Endymion have settled down on “Old Earth” (just Earth to us) for a few years. That is until one day Aenea instructs Raul to go on an interminable mission to pick up their spaceship which they left on another planet in the previous book and bring it to her at a preprogrammed destination. After finally reuniting with great difficulty they travel to the planet where the Pax run Vatican is located and confront the Pax and the evil AI.
There are quite a few edge of the seat thrilling scenes in this book, especially those involving the killer super cyborgs (T-1000-like) Nemes, Scylla (and the other one). The equally formidable Shrike from all the previous books is also present to challenge these whippersnapper cyborgs. However, the book is not a thrill ride all the way as Raul’s solo adventure to reclaim their “Consul’s Ship” drags at time, though he did get to meet some wonderful characters and cultures on the way. The climax is suitably epic and mystical, and the events that follow wrap up the entire Cantos nicely. I did see the twist at the end from miles away though (if you have read this book I’d love to know if did the same).
Dan Simmons’ prose is always great to read, slipping into lyrical mode from time to time, with the odd (and very odd) poems. The characterization is the main strength of this book, the protagonists and antagonists are all very well drawn. The sci-fi aspect of it is not so mind boggling now as they were mostly featured in the previous books. Some of the new sci-fi elements border on fantasy, such as FTL travelling by foot, through a sort of hyperspace shortcut. Not to mention all the “chosen one” and messianic tropes. In fact Aenea reminds me a lot of Paul Muad'Dib from Dune. All of the mysteries from the previous books (including the origin and nature of the Shrike) are explained (to the displeasure of some fans who prefer them to be left unexplained). The book is also very romantic, optimistic and yet kind of tragic.
I am glad I have finished the entire series, but the first two books classic Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion remain two of my all time favorites which I would like to reread some day. I enjoyed Endymion and The Rise of Endymion but I am not likely to reread them....more
“On the barren shore, and on the lofty ice barrier in the background, myriads of grotesque penguins squawked and flapped their fins”.
Yep! We are in L
“On the barren shore, and on the lofty ice barrier in the background, myriads of grotesque penguins squawked and flapped their fins”.
Yep! We are in Lovecraft’s universe where even penguins are grotesque. I mean, whoever heard of an ugly penguin? At the Mountains of Madness is H.P. Lovecraft’s best known novel, not that difficult an accomplishment as he did not write that many (only this one and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward I believe. A wise decision because I find that his style is much more suited to the short story format. There are some amazing, creepy and wildly entertaining tales in the “greatest hits” anthology The Best of H.P. Lovecraft Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre that I reviewed rambled about in detail.
At the Mountains of Madness is basically about an expedition to an unexplored part of Antarctica. The intrepid explorers of course run into weird Lovecraftian things and the protagonist lives to tell the tale as a deterrent to other explorers. The main asset of this book is Lovecraft’s painstaking world building, free from the constraint of the short story format he takes his time describing the setup, the landscape and the increasingly strange discoveries. As a result the novel is steeped in creepy atmosphere you can really immerse into.
That said I really don’t think this should be anyone’s gateway into Lovecraft’s fiction. The descriptions can seem a little interminable and the pacing can be something of a slog for the impatient readers, especially if they are not familiar with Lovecraft’s idiosyncratic writing style. The readers who have enjoyed some Lovecraft stories, especially the “The Cthulhu Mythos” one will find much to enjoy here. The infamous Necronomicon by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred (as opposed his totally sane relatives I guess) is often referred to. The Elder Ones, the Shoggoths and some unnamed things even the monsters are sacred of are featured. As usual with Lovecraft there is no dialogue to speak of and characterization is nonexistent. There is also not a lot of action in this book, the climax is a little vague. All the creepy setup does not result in a spectacular payoff. If you just read it for the creep factor you should be well satisfied.
In spite of its popularity this is not my favorite of his works but personally I will always have time for more Lovecraft. (3.5 stars)...more
Peer pressure is a terrible thing, Cat’s Cradle is highly rated by people I respect, especially my GR friends, I went into it with much enthusiasm, haPeer pressure is a terrible thing, Cat’s Cradle is highly rated by people I respect, especially my GR friends, I went into it with much enthusiasm, half hoping for one of those “all-time greats” reads. However, life is full of surprises, and not in a good way on this occasion. It is easy to dismiss books like Twilight or 50 Shades in spite of their blockbusting best seller status because I don’t actually know anybody who like them! With a book like Cat’s Cradle it makes me doubt my own discernment.
The best I can do to stave off allegations that I am a philistine is that while I enjoyed some of it, on the whole I just don’t like it very much. The problem I have is that I did not find the plot and the characters engaging, I admire Vonnegut’s dry, sardonic wit but the story seems to ramble on and on until I got to the exciting climax. The micro chapters also play hell with the pacing of the book, there seems to me no momentum to the narrative that I could latch on to. The book has a “choppy” feel to it.
Another minor complaint I have is the amount of neologisms in this book, they are all explained but there are so many of them and I have such a poor memory that often had to Google them for quick explanations (though that is no trouble really).
As mentioned earlier I do like some of it, mainly the laughs I found here and there. I like the parts of the book that deal with “ice-nine”, the explanation of it and the apocalyptic result of its application is very entertaining. I enjoyed the wacky “Bokononism” philosophy. Maxims like “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” seem like words to live by to me! One character’s comment about reading is also wonderful:
“Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?” “In one of two ways,” he said, “petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”
At the end of the day though, the subtexts or profundities of this book escaped me as such things often do, but especially for books that I was not deeply engaged with. I do enjoy quoting bits of it though, this one seems appropriate:
“Man blinked. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely. "Everything must have a purpose?" asked God. "Certainly," said man. "Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God. And He went away.”
“Any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and—Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the
“Any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and—Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives.”
Ah! The original wibbly wobbly timey wimey novel (well, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court predates The Time Machine, and perhaps some other books as well, but never mind, you can put me right in the comments section if you want). Certainly it is the first one that I ever read as a wee lad. Last week I was looking for a short free audiobook for a bus journey and for some read on I thought of H.G. Wells and picked The Time Machine as it is my favorite.
The only problem I have with reading this book is that it is already “spoiled” long before I read the first paragraph. I remember all the major plot points very well, and what sci-fi fans have never heard of Elois and Morlocks? What I have no memory of is Wells’ prose style and his narrative talents. As the above quoted passage shows he was an eloquent writer with a rare ability to make scientific expositions sound elegant.
Wells was also an amazing story teller, the story may seem like old hat now but if you imagine that you have never heard of this story and never read anything like it before it is quite an astounding and riveting story. Consider the world building of his Dystopian far future with the two sub species of the human race. It is a beautiful piece of social satire and a thought provoking metaphor for social classes which are still prevalent today hundreds of years after the publication of this novel. There is not much in the way of characterization but that is perfectly fine for a book this short, besides the Elois are all hippy-ish airheads and the Morlocks are not interested in conversations. The protagonist does not even have a name.
The last couple of chapters may well be the most atmospheric. Wells’ depiction of an even further future beyond the Elois and Morlocks era is a little surreal and quite eerie. Those crab things seem like something out of H.P. Lovecraft. The conclusion of the novel is also nice and mysterious, mystical even. If you think H.G. Wells is old hat but never actually read any of his books I urge you to give him a try. Certainly I intend to reread The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man etc. before too long. Yes, they are all old hats but they are great hats! Classic headwears never go out of fashion.
Finally I would like to bookend this review with another favorite passage:
“You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions. Nor, having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence. So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist? Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?
This is by far my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel (well, neck and neck with her novella The Word for World is Forest). Her most popular science fiThis is by far my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel (well, neck and neck with her novella The Word for World is Forest). Her most popular science fiction books (thus excluding the classic Earthsea fantasy series) tend to be The Left hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed, both of these are excellent books but The Lathe of Heaven is the most mind blowing. It is as if she was channeling Philip K. Dick, and according to Wikipedia it is actually her tribute to the late great author.
The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr an insignificant little man who dreams big!. Whenever Orr has an “effective” dream, the dream becomes real (“effective” dream as opposed to normal dreams which he also has). Reality reshapes in accordance with his effective dreams and even changes retroactively to ensure consistency and avoid paradoxes. Orr gives a great example of this during a session with his dastardly psychiatrist William Haber: if he dreams “effectively” of a pink dog when he wakes up there will be a pink dog, but it would not surprise anybody as there will have always been pink dogs in the world, and one has wandered into the room. So it is not a case of a pink dog suddenly popping into existence.
When I read that I had to pause and imagine the implication and it really is one of the most intriguing sci-fi concepts ever. Unfortunately for George Orr and the rest of the world he is manipulated by Haber who turns out to be an egomaniac. With the aid of an “Augmentor” machine of his own invention he is able to indulge his God complex and alter reality the way he sees fit. From that point reality start warping and changing like taffy. It would be a crime for me to elaborate on the numerous changes wrought by Orr’s effective dreams, I really recommend that you find out for yourself.
Le Guin has one advantage over PKD in that she does write better prose, dialog and characterization. Personally I do not have any problems with PKD’s writing style but in term of literary merit I think Le Guin is in a different league. (PKD is the champion in the brilliantly wacky plots department I think). Here is an example:
“And since then Haber had at least been candid with Orr about his manipulations. Though candid was not the right word; Haber was much too complex a person for candor. Layer after layer might peel off the onion and yet nothing be revealed but more onion. That peeling off of one layer was the only real change”
Add her prose prowess to her massive imagination and her legendary status within the SF/F genres is not at all surprising. During the last few chapters Le Guin’s imagination goes into overdrive and I felt totally immersed in her dream like shifting reality. Her characters are always believable and suitably lovable or despicable as the plot requires. Beside Orr and Haber there is another central character called Heather Lelache who is both tough and sympathetic. There are some poignant scenes involving her that I find to be quite moving.
I could go on and on about this book and I will probably read it again one day (this is already a reread). It is one of the all-time greats and if you love science fiction it is not to be missed....more
Novels narrated from a dog’s point of view are rarities. I distinctly remember reading two, Fluke by the late great James Herbert, and Cujo by StephenNovels narrated from a dog’s point of view are rarities. I distinctly remember reading two, Fluke by the late great James Herbert, and Cujo by Stephen King (only partly from the dog’s POV). If the author’s talent is up to the task, it is quite a nice change in perspective (though I am sure you wouldn't want to read fiction from a canine perspective all the time unless you are a dog, even actual dogs don't want to do that, I have asked a few).
Set in the Yukon during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, The Call of the Wild is narrated in the third person but almost entirely from the dog’s point of view. The protagonist is Buck, a huge St. Bernard-Scotch Collie. (half St. Bernard and half sheepdog). At the beginning of the book he is living a happy life as a pet of a judge but is soon stolen by the judge’s gardener and sold to dog traders, one of whom beat the stuffing out of him to teach him his place in the world (as the trader sees it). After this traumatic and transformative experience he is soon sold off to Canadian mail dispatchers. The story of his life as a sled dog is quite harrowing, featuring a fight for supremacy among his teammates, being sold off again to inhumane ignoramus and almost starving to death. Buck goes through the wringer and survives admirably thanks to his tenacity, cunning, fortitude and general badassery. The title of the book The Call of the Wild only becomes a theme toward the end of the book, but I won’t spoil the book by elaborating on this.
The book is generally very well written though but there is very little dialog, as the dogs are not Disneyfied / anthromorphosised talking animals. The hardship and abuse endured by the sled dogs is quite harrowing. If you think you’ve got it bad try being a sled dog (though if you are reading this the contingency is an unlikely one). The author Jack London clearly has a lot of affinity for dogs and feels a moral outrage at the abusive treatment they often receive from human beings. He also has an insight into dogs’ mentality as this passage demonstrates:
“But the club of the man in the red sweater had beaten into him a more fundamental and primitive code. Civilized, he could have died for a moral consideration, say the defence of Judge Miller's riding-whip; but the completeness of his decivilization was now evidenced by his ability to flee from the defence of a moral consideration and so save his hide.”
“In short, the things he did were done because it was easier to do them than not to do them.”
Ah! I wish my dog was so eloquent! The process of “decivilization” of Buck is an fascinating one, in order to survive he has to turn feral and it later transpires that Buck has some kind of primordial instinct for turning wild. That said he also has an almost conflicting desire to be loved by a human master, and for doing the best job he can as a sled dog, and later as a bodyguard and companion. What he also has above all other characters in this book is an indomitable will to live, and eventually to be free.
If you love dogs this is a novel not to be missed. It is quite short, only about 170 pages, and there is an excellent free audiobook version from Librivox, very well read by Mark F. Smith (thank you sir!)....more
I have been meaning to read this book for a couple of years and only just got around to it, at this rate it will take several incarnations for me to fI have been meaning to read this book for a couple of years and only just got around to it, at this rate it will take several incarnations for me to finish my reading list. However, I am somewhat familiar with Lev Grossman’s writing, I have read many of his articles for Time magazine, and admired his witty writing style. However, the basic concept of the magicians did not look too enticing. A Hogwarts-ish college? It sounded a little derivative to me, even if Grossman adapted the style for a more mature readership. Still, it does seem to be quite popular among adult fantasy readers and as I said I like the author's style so here we finally are.
Having finished it I can tell you that The Magicians is much more than a pastiche of Harry Potter series, or C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia from which Grossman also borrowed heavily. The Magicians follows Quentin Coldwater a lonely high school graduate who stumbles upon “Brakebills”, a college of magic very similar to Hogwarts (and also the school for wizards in Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea which predates Harry Potter by decades). The major difference is The Magicians’ adult language, sexual situations and some graphic violence. This book is certainly not a spoof or a mere imitation of the legendary fantasy series I mentioned. Grossman combines the tropes of the Harry Potter and Narnia series very well, and even manages to turn most of these tropes on their heads. The mechanics and philosophy of magic is quite cleverly imagined here.
The entire book is a breeze to read from beginning to end thanks to Levman’s excellent prose style which is often witty and touches upon literary at times. I have a couple of reservations however, the first half of the book feels too derivative of Harry Potter and Narnia. The concepts are no longer fresh even though they are cleverly utilized. My other reservation is with the protagonist Quentin Coldwater who I find rather unsympathetic. An unsympathetic antihero is fine but Quentin is not an antihero, he is a hero who makes mistakes that many teenagers and young adults do. However, I find him to be selfish, self indulgent and a general pain in the ass. Even by the end of the book when he realized his errors I still do not find that he has redeemed himself. I think Grossman’s idea is to present a young man whose youthful impulses cause a lot of grief for himself and others. Unfortunately I do not think Grossman endowed him with enough redeemable qualities for me to sympathize with his plight.
On the plus side the second half of the book is quite a tremendous read as the main characters graduate from college and the Narnia-like element takeover from the wizardry training at Brakebills which was beginning to pall for me. I do not want to say too much about the second part and the thrilling climax of the book because there are some great surprises in store for you if you read it.
I am not entirely sure I will read the subsequent volumes of this Magicians series, I am sure that if I do I will enjoy the books because of the author’s prose style, imagination and story telling skill. However, I do not care enough about the characters to follow their adventures and there are several other series I am more invested in.
I can easily recommend The Magicians as an enjoyable read with the caveats that I mentioned, they are by no means deal breakers. Certainly if you are into the “school of magic” type of fantasy this book should do nicely....more
“Love isn't just wanting another person the way you want to own an object you see in a store. That's just desire. You want to have it around, take it
“Love isn't just wanting another person the way you want to own an object you see in a store. That's just desire. You want to have it around, take it home and set it up somewhere in the apartment like a lamp. Love is"--she paused, reflecting--"like a father saving his children from a burning house, getting them out and dying himself. When you love you cease to live for yourself; you live for another person.”
What? This in a Philip K. Dick novel?
This is an unusual PKD book, though you could argue that all PKD books are unusual so there is nothing unusual about one of his books being unusual. What I mean is that the tone and style are different from the earlier PKD classics like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Ubik. First published in 1974 after the aforementioned classic PKD novels, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said seems to be written during a transitional period in Dick’s style. Profanities are common place in the dialogs, something not present in Dick’s works from the 60s (I believe), and there is more depth to the characters, more compassion and more emotional resonance.
This story is set in a dystopian 1988 USA (a “near future” at the time of writing) where the people live under a police state, anybody found at spot checks without proper documentation are liable to be summarily shipped off sent to labour camps (students especially). The novel’s protagonist is Jason Taverner, a famous singer who has his own nightly TV show with viewership in the millions. One day he wakes up in a rundown hotel and finds that nobody knows who he is, not even his closest friends and lover. The how and why of his predicament is one of Dick’s best story ideas, but the less I elaborate on that the better.
This is one of my favorite PKD books, I would rate it alongside the aforementioned Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as the best of his works; certainly I would rate it far above his Hugo winner The Man in the High Castle of which I am not a fan. The standout feature of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is that it is more emotional than most of his fiction. There is a sadness and sympathy to it that I do not associate with his works. That said PKD fans will be right at home with the usual Dickian trope of drug induced reality warping.
Dick’s prose is the usual utilitarian style he uses in most of his works, the dialog is often stilted as if the characters are all drug addled to some extent. If this sounds like a criticism it really is not. I like the way Dick writes, it is clear and effective for conveying the weirdness inherent in his stories. As for the dialog his characters tend to say the oddest things out of the blue, like Jason Taverner suddenly tells a woman she looks too old for her age for no apparent reason and getting whacked on the head as a result. Dick’s sense of humour is also wonderfully weird, such as the title of Taverner’s latest hit being “Nowhere Nuthin' Fuck-up”, which he describes as a sentimental number. His depiction of 1988 of course bears little resemblance to that year in reality with personal flying vehicles and vinyl records still very much in use. I hope this does not dissuade anybody from reading it however, I believe that it is not sci-fi writers’ job to predict the future but to speculate and provide some food for thought.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is one of Dick’s most underrated books. As usual he makes us question the reality we live in but this time he also makes us think about how we perceive ourselves and others and how our perception affects our social interactions and relationships. An unexpectedly moving book....more
Cory Doctorow is one of the high profile current crop of sci-fi authors, he is also famous for his blogs on Boing Boing, and his stance on liberalisinCory Doctorow is one of the high profile current crop of sci-fi authors, he is also famous for his blogs on Boing Boing, and his stance on liberalising copyright laws (he even got into a trouble with the legendary Ursula K. Le Guin for posting an article she wrote on his web site.
The first book I read of Doctorow’s was Little Brother I enjoyed it very much though I felt that the prose and dialog could be a little better. Three years later I just got around to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, his first novel, and still one of his most popular (after Little Brother). When somebody at PrintSF (sf reading community) asks about where to start with Doctorow’s books this book always comes up.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is set in a post-scarcity economy where hunger, poverty and even death have been made obsolete. The absence of hunger hand poverty is not elaborated on very much but there is a mention “Makers” which seem to be the kind of nanotechnology “make anything” machines featured in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age and Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky. With all material wants satisfied money is no longer in use, however, there is still a currency of sorts called “Whuffies”. If I understand correctly whuffies are similar to “Likes” on Facebook or “Upvotes” on Reddit. The important difference is that whuffies are actually worth something, nice seats at restaurant, nicer houses and other privileges. The story of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom concerns the protagonist / narrator Julius’ struggle to hold on to his management position at Liberty Square in Disney World (the Magic Kingdom).
I like the 22nd century world that Doctorow depicts in this book, definitely one of the more optimistic visions of the future. The abolition of death through “backups” is always an interesting trope for speculation of how we would view our lives given that immortality is a thing. Personally I am of the opinion that after you are dead the version of you restored from a backup and put in a cloned body is not really you. Whatever your take on this idea may be it is regrettable that the issue is not explored in this book. Having built such an interesting post-singularity world it is a pity that Doctorow decides to focus the entire book on Walt Disney World, I am sure it is a very nice resort (never been there) but I want to know more about the world outside of it.
Doctorow employs a few neologisms in this book and he does not directly explain any of them. This is a fine tradition in sf writing where the meaning of the made up words gradually unfold through the context of the book. However, for the meanings to be inferred the author has to give clearer hints than what Doctorow has done here. For example after seeing the word “whuffie” a couple of times I assumed it is similar to Facebook’s “Like” but I did not know it has replaced currency. My failure or the author’s? You be the judge. Also words like “Bitchun Society” just sounds too juvenile to be used in any official capacity.
I have a feeling that with this first novel Doctorow tried too hard to be hip, hipster prose is really not very appealing to me. The protagonist and narrator Julius is too self indulgent to be sympathetic, as are all the other characters. The prose style is accessible and the dialogue is tolerable but I think Doctorow’s writing skills have improved substantially by the time he wrote Little Brother.
I can recommend this book with the above mentioned reservations. The world and the technology is quite interesting, the book is easy to read and quite short (around 200 pages). More importantly Cory Doctorow has made this book available as a free e-book which you can download at Project Gutenberg (link) and other sites....more
Robert Silverberg is a legend, one of the all-time greats, and among these all-time greats he is probably the most underrated. He has Hugo and NebulaRobert Silverberg is a legend, one of the all-time greats, and among these all-time greats he is probably the most underrated. He has Hugo and Nebula Awards up the wazoo but is relatively unknown compared to the giants of the genre like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, IMHO he belongs up there with them in term of accolades.
A Time of Changes is one of his best novels if his Goodreads page is anything to go by. However, if you have never read anything by Silverberg before you may want to start with something more immediately accessible like Lord Valentine s Castle or Dying Inside. That said A Time of Changes is indeed an extremely good and unusual book. If you are in the mood for a thought provoking (but not action packed) book by all means dive straight into this one.
The novel gets off to a slow start and never really shifts into high gear. However, once you immerse into the story, characters and settings the fascination sets in, and the slow pace becomes a kind of virtue.
“this planet was settled by men who had strong religious beliefs, who specifically came here to preserve them, and who took great pains to instill them in their descendants.”
In a nutshell the story is set on a human colony planet called Velada Borthan where intimacy is taboo and self denial is the norm. Their society operates under a Covenant that prohibits opening up one’s feelings except to a designated bondbrother and bondsister. The usage of first person pronouns “I” and “me” is considered obscene. The title of the book refers to the protagonist Kinnall Darival’s discovery of a drug that forms a temporary telepathic link between the drinkers. After his first experience with the drug it becomes clear that the Covenant is preventing people from intimacy, and thereby from understanding and loving each other.
It is actually fairly difficult to synopsize this book briefly and interestingly but it really is a wonderful thought experiment that explores human relationship, religiosity and empathy. A culture where people build walls around themselves to keep everybody at a distance and human interactions are always impersonal has far reaching implications. In some way it is an allegory for impersonal, taciturn human relationships we often encounter in real life.
I hesitate to call A Time of Changes a “difficult book” as the narrative style is straight forward, and even the timeline is almost completely linear (except for the frame story at the beginning and the end) with only one plot stand and point of view. The possible difficulty lies in the unusual theme and slow, contemplative pacing. As usual Robert Silverberg writes beautiful literary prose without lapsing into excessively lyrical passages. There is even some mild humour in the “polite circumlocution” dialogue which is the norm for this planet. For example:
”I should not have said, “One would have a room,” but rather, “Is there a room to be had? ” At a restaurant it is wrong to say, “One will dine on thus and thus,” but rather, “These are the dishes that have been chosen.” And so on and so on, twisting everything into a cumbersome passive form to avoid the sin of acknowledging one’s own existence.”
In writing this review I find that while I love the book I can not sell it very well because it is not a “fun read” as such, unless you enjoy pondering thought experiments. If you read this book and dismiss it as “boring” you may want to pause to examine what you want from a novel. If it is purely entertainment then this may not be the book for you. If you enjoy imagining how our society may operating under very different sets of rules A Time of Changes is endlessly fascinating. The Nebula Award (1971) for Best Novel is well deserved....more
This is the second volume of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. I enjoyed the first book Old Man's War very much, I even rated it 5 stars on my GoodrThis is the second volume of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. I enjoyed the first book Old Man's War very much, I even rated it 5 stars on my Goodreads review (adjusted to 4 later). However, I read it in June 2011 and I have just read this second volume three years later. The reason is that since reading that first volume I have read so many books that I like much better and a 5 stars rating seems inaccurate. In all fairness I do not think there is much wrong with Old Man's War apart from some of the jokes falling flat for me. Scalzi has a good sense of humour and he even makes a good living out of his more humorous sci-fi but in Old Man's War, and to a lesser extent this book The Ghost Brigades, some of the jokes just sort of short circuit for me. It seems like he tries too hard with the humour sometimes.
That reservation aside though, the Old Man's War series has a great concept and is generally well executed. Every successful sf author seems to have a popular series to call their own. So I guess this series is John Scalzi’s Foundation, Revelation Space, or The Night's Dawn Trilogy (I left out Dune and Hyperion as the first volume seems to be more popular as a standalone). In fact, today I just heard that Syfy is developing Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades into a TV series (to be called “The Ghost Brigades” apparently).
Discussing John Scalzi’s books can be a little contentious as he has many admirers as well as detractors. His very high profile and incessant self-promotion can be very off-putting, and also his body of work tend to be highly commercial. For examples Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts are two bestselling books but I have no intention of reading as one is a “reboot” of Little Fuzzy and personally I do not want books to be rebooted like movies and TV shows, and the other has a concept which does not appeal to me (Star Trek parody). In all fairness both books are probably very good but I just do not fancy reading them. On the positive side Scalzi’s style is very accessible and Old Man's War is a book you can generally recommend to anyone who want to start reading sci-fi; unless they are looking for literary or profound sci-fi, which are rather rarities in any case. He once described his works as “gateway drug” into sci-fi literature and that seems fair.
The Ghost Brigades takes place sometime after the events of Old Man's War, I am not sure how much time has elapsed as this book features almost all new characters, except Jane Sagan. One thing I really like about this book is how Scalzi confounds my expectations by introducing the main protagonist Jared Dirac more than 60 pages into the book, and how his story arc develops in unexpected directions. In this volume Scalzi expands the world building of Old Man's War and delves into the life of the enigmatic Special Forces (nicknamed The Ghost Brigades). These are soldiers who were never naturally born but are bred in artificial bodies and implanted with consciousness and a built-in computer called “BrainPal” (not one of sci-fi’s best neologisms I don’t think). Unfortunately for our hero Jared Dirac he is implanted with a nefarious man’s consciousness pattern instead of a brand new consciousness like his colleagues, with the mission of tracking down this man and putting a stop to his plan to work with hostile aliens to destroy mankind.
Scalzi has considerable story telling skills and he seems to make an effort to ensure that the readers understand the scifi elements of his story. His prose style is mainly utilitarian but nice and clean. The characters are not particularly complex but they tend to be sympathetic and likable. The humour is hit and miss for me but they are not really an issue in this book, at least he is not trying to elicit laughter every few paragraphs (the awful Sherlock Holmes joke notwithstanding). On the other hand his depiction of human compassion is really quite effective (the feels!). I find The Ghost Brigades to be better written than Old Man's War but it is a little inferior in that the main concept is no longer new and much of the lengthy Special Forces training section is too similar to the regular soldiers training in the previous book. The sci-fi tech like the Skip Drive is very well explained in pseudo-science terms, and the diversity of sentient alien races is a feast of imagination.
TL;DR: I had a good time reading this book and will probably come back to the series before too long....more
Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion are two books fans of science fiction literature should not miss. They are exciting, mind blowing, beautiful, lyricaHyperion and The Fall of Hyperion are two books fans of science fiction literature should not miss. They are exciting, mind blowing, beautiful, lyrical and thought provoking. The first volume Hyperion is often ranked as one of the top ten greatest sci-fi books ever. That said, I read The Fall of Hyperion in November 2012 and only got around to reading Endymion almost two years later. I am too easily influenced by reviews or readers’ comments, and while Endymion tend to be more positively reviewed than negative it is clearly much less popular than the first two books of the Hyperion Cantos. I remember someone said that Endymion is like a bad fanfic of Hyperion (it is not) and that was very off-putting. Still, I never did remove it from my TBR and eventually I am in the mood for it and here we are. (I know, “who cares?” right? But I have to start the review somehow, and rambling is usually my launch pad of choice).
Endymion is set more than 200 years after the event of The Fall of Hyperion. By then the Cantos, written by the foulmouthed poet Martin Silenus, has already become the stuff of legend, and an infamous banned book. The book begins with a frame story of the semi-eponymous Raul Endymion writing from some kind of high tech solitary satellite prison. While he is awaiting his imminent demise by cyanide poisoning he is spending his last days regaling us lucky readers with the story of his adventures with a girl called Aenea who will one day become a messiah of some kind. Aenea is the daughter of the wonderful Brawne Lamia, the female detective from the first two volumes of the series and the John Keats “cybrid” (artificial human). The book basically concerns Aenea’s journey with Endymion and an android named A.Bettik via a series of farcasters (teleportation portals). There is also a parallel plot strand of a group of military agents hunting them down. Much adventure ensues.
Unlike the first two volumes of the Cantos this book is fairly straight forward in structure and narrative style. It is basically a chase from beginning to end. I can understand why some people find it disappointing after having read the previous two books (the classic Hyperion especially). The tone is very different, less poetic and lyrical, the profundity is not there. One of the most remarkable things about the first Hyperion book is that Dan Simmons did a kind of virtuoso performance by writing in several different styles of sci-fi subgenres and other genres, including space opera, hard sf, soft sf, military sf, cyberpunk, hard boiled crime fiction, and even literary fiction. The different narrative styles also combine beautifully into an excellent and cohesive story. Endymion is not so ambitious, the prose style in this book is much more utilitarian, apart from the odd snippets of poetry here and there; it is of course very well written, one thing you can count on from Simmons. Personally I am fine with Endymion’s less literary style, as it means the author is not repeating himself.
The world building and sci-fi tech of Endymion is as great as the previous books. My personal favorite is the “archangel ships” which have faster than light capability but at a slight drawback of violently killing all the occupants of the ship who are later automatically resurrected in crèches with the aid of the Cruciform parasite (from the first Hyperion novel) in tandem with some mysterious technology. Unfortunately for the humans farcasters are all disabled by the TechnoCore (a sort of AI overlords) so if you want FTL travel you would have to accept being flattened and squished into paste then resurrected later (and also have a horrid parasite permanently attached to your chest).
Characterization is quite strong, again an expectation I have of Simmons’ books; though the characters here are not as colorful as those the from the previous Hyperion volumes. All the central characters here are believable and sympathetic and the dialogue rings true, with the occasional bits of humour. My favorite character being “A. Bettik”, an android who is humble, loyal, brave, and unfailingly polite of course. Even though an android is not a robot A. Bettik reminds me of Asimov's R. Daneel Olivaw from The Naked Sun and several other of his classic robot novels.
The plot and pacing is very good on the whole, though the chapters from the military agent Captain de Soya’s point of view tend to drag a little. The thrilling climax toward the end of the book is monumentally kickass though; edge of the seat stuff featuring The Shrike who is as “sharp” as ever and an adversary who is worthy of going toe to toe with him.