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
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
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
“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
One of those very popular titles that tend to show up in the "Best Fantasy Books" lists (here is one list I rely on). This could be the book that brinOne of those very popular titles that tend to show up in the "Best Fantasy Books" lists (here is one list I rely on). This could be the book that brings me back to reading more fantasy novels (as I tend to have a preference for sci-fi). The Lies of Locke Lamora hits the ground running from the lengthy prologue which is reminiscent of Dickens’ Oliver Twist but with the Artful Dodger as the protagonist rather than Oliver. There is even a Fagin-like character called Thiefmaker who teaches little orphans to “pick a pocket or two” among other things. The protagonist is of course the eponymous Locke Lamora, a boy with a tremendous instinct for trickery. Asking “Please sir, can I have some more?” is certainly not his style, instead he is always cooking up ingenious new schemes to get more without obtaining anybody’s permission. Being young, clever and reckless eventually gets him and his mentor into trouble and is sold to a gang leader called “Father Chains” who teaches him to refine his confidence tricks and become a “Gentleman Bastard”.
After the riveting prologue the novel switches back and forth between the present day where Locke is an adult super-thief and the flashbacks which tells of Locke’s training under Father Chains. Initially I was thinking how I would prefer a more linear structure but obviously Scott Lynch knows his business better than I do and the dual timelines begin to intertwine impressively, showing how the past directly impacts the present.
My favorite aspect of this book is how Lynch integrates tropes from other genres of fiction like the Dickensian bildungsroman, the gangster fiction of Mario Puzo and the “heist films” like Ocean’s Eleven and such. Archetypes are more interesting if they show up where they are not expected, as in this case; I never expected to see Don Vito Corleone in a fantasy setting.
I also love that there is no sign of a quest to save the world in this book and the fantastical aspect is very low key. When I was in my teens I enjoyed the Xanth series of fantasy books by Piers Anthony where magic is very common. As I grew older and more cynical such “high fantasy” begin to seem rather childish to me and I find that I much prefer science fiction where the fantastical element tend to be backed by actual science and more believable. Wizards conjuring chairs and things out of thin air, turning people into frogs etc. just get my cynical eyes rolling. With The Lies of Locke Lamora by the time magic shows up it seems to be very discreetly used, and besides, I was already deeply immersed in the story and quite happy to suspend my disbelief. I also like the mysterious references to a disappeared ancient race called “the Eldren” which remind me of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and even Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee absentee aliens.
The prose is very readable and often humorous, the main characters are very well drawn and dialogue is sharp. However, I have one minor quibble about the writing, I find that most of the characters tend to sound the same when they talk. Practically everybody seems to be ready with sardonic or witty repartees of a similar style, even the uneducated characters seem to be similarly articulate. It is not a major problem and the frequent banters are quite entertaining, I just wish that the characters' voices are more distinguishable.
Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the plot twist and turns and I had no idea how things will eventually turn out except that Locke Lamora will survive as this is a multi-volumes series bearing his name. Over all I had an excellent time reading this book and my aforementioned minor quibble does not amount to anything. I am definitely on board for more of this Gentleman Bastard series....more
First published in 1982 almost 30 years after the last volume of the iconic original Foundation Trilogy, namely Second Foundation, I was skeptical thaFirst published in 1982 almost 30 years after the last volume of the iconic original Foundation Trilogy, namely Second Foundation, I was skeptical that Asimov would be able to maintain his mojo post the Golden Age of Science Fiction when he was publishing his most iconic sci-fi stories and novels. Of his 80s books I only read The Robots of Dawn which I thought was quite good but not in the same league as his 50s robot novels The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. Still, I liked it enough to rekindle my interest in the Foundation series of which I have only read the original trilogy in my teens. For some reason I neglected the series from the 4th volume onwards and to catch up I did not want to simply dive into it as it was decades ago since I read the previous books and I have gotten most of the background details. So I reread the trilogy a couple of months ago and enjoyed it very much in spite of already knowing the major plot twists. The Foundation saga remains quite potent after all these years.
Foundation's Edge is the 4th volume I speak of. It is set 500 years after the establishment of the Foundation. The Seldon Plan is going swimmingly and the First Foundation is at the peak of its strength having dominated all the neighboring planets through its superior technology and military might. The people of the Foundation believe that the threat from the mind controlling Second Foundation has been eliminated and there is now only one Foundation, theirs. Alas someone always show up to rock the boat otherwise we would not have much of a story. Enters one Golan Trevize, a Council member and an original thinker; a dangerous combination. It occurs to Trevize that the Seldon Plan has been going too well of late and there is surely something wrong when things are just too right. It is unnatural for things to always go according to plan, some deviations must occur. Trevize believes this is an indication that the Foundation is being surreptitiously controlled by puppet masters from the dreaded Second Foundation who will ensure the Seldon Plan reaches fruition and then step in as lord and masters. Voicing such a controversial idea turns out to be unwise as he is summarily kicked off the planet Terminus (home of the Foundation) with a secret mission to locate the Second Foundation in order for the First to do away with them once and for all. Many surprises ensue.
In spite of not being action packed as such I find Foundation's Edge to be a gripping page turner. The plot tends to move through dialogue rather than narration. Every page seems to be stuffed with dialogue as characters are always discussing or arguing about something. The climax is also played through dialogue. This is a surprisingly effective method of story telling as the book is never dull. Asimov writes good dialogue but his characters do have a tendency to belabor their points at times.
Asimov’s major strengths are his epic ideas, world building and plot; these are the reason he is one of the most popular sci-fi authors of all time (possibly the most popular). His world building here is better than ever, I particularly love the telepathic society and culture of the Second Foundation on Trantor and the strange people of Gaia. It is also lovely to see the robots and their “Three Laws” worked into the Foundation universe, plus a clever explanation for the absence of aliens in the Foundation universe.
Asimov is often criticized for his utilitarian prose and thin characters (the same criticisms leveled toward most Golden Age authors). While he was no Dickens or Oscar Wilde in term of prose, characterization and dialogue I find these criticisms a little unfair. His prose is not extraordinary but it is uncluttered and very readable, it is never clumsy or semi-literate; he never insults the readers’ intelligence. His dialogue is often full of amusing witty banter and sardonic remarks. As for his characters, while some of the supporting characters are indeed flat his central characters and protagonists are often memorable. After decades away from his books I still remember very well Hari Seldon, The Mule, Susan Calvin (from I Robot), Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw (from several robot novels). As for Foundation's Edge's characters, Golan Trevize,and several lead characters are quite vivid and memorable also. In contrast I can not remember a single character from Arthur C. Clarke’s books (except Hal 9000 and Dave Bowman); no disrespect to Sir Arthur though, he has his own brand of greatness.
The climax of Foundation's Edge is just wonderful and the epilogue leads nicely to the next book Foundation and Earth. Asimov always seems to enjoy telling his Foundation stories tremendously and his enjoyment is infectious. Can’t wait!...more
“Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” (Matthew 10:29) “But the sparrow still falls.”
I think the second sentence in
“Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” (Matthew 10:29) “But the sparrow still falls.”
I think the second sentence in the above quote (from page 401) basically says “shit happens”. It does encapsulate the major theme of the novel quite well I think.
The Sparrow is one of those books I hear people raving about and immediately put on my TBR list, but it won’t stay there quietly as I keep hearing about it almost on a weekly basis. So I have to capitulate or go mad and move it to the top of the pile.
In a nutshell The Sparrow is about a mission organized by the Jesuit order to a planet called Rakhat where a satellite received transmission of alien music from the vicinity of Alpha Centauri.
The novel has a dual timelines narrative structure. In the “present day” timeline at the beginning of the book it is revealed that the protagonist Father Emilio Sandoz is the only survivor of the mission. He is in very poor shaped with grossly mutilated hands and he is on trial for a couple of heinous crimes he allegedly committed on the alien planet. This leads to the flashback timeline where the details and mysteries of the mission gradually unfold.
As with most novels the shorter the synopsis the better I think (plus I hate writing them). Mary Doria Russell certainly plays her cards close to her chest. I was intrigued pretty much from beginning to end and while The Sparrow is not a fast paced novel it is something of a page turner. I had no idea the book has a dual timeline and initially I made the mistake of not paying any attention to the date indicated at beginning of the chapters and had to backtrack. So I would recommend paying close attention to begin with until you are hooked.
“The problem with atheism, I find, under these circumstances, is that I have no one to despise but myself. If, however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God.”
While it is certainly a science fiction novel the emphasis is not on the sci-fi-ness of first contact with aliens, it is more an exploration of faith. Not in a proselytizing sense, Ms. Russell is not badgering the reader to accept God, she is writing about what can happen if you do, what can you reasonably expect to get for your faith. Should you believe that He watches over you 24/7? (She describes this as the belief in God’s micromanagement). Without really spoiling the book I can tell you that some very awful things happen to very good people, including the pious ones.
In spite of the religious theme the First Contact with aliens aspect of the book is not neglected. The conditions of the planet Rakhat are clearly described and the alien native species is vividly imagined. They are very similar to humans in many ways but extremely alien in many others. The exposition of their biology, culture, cities etc is just the sort of thing most sci-fi readers would enjoy. It also leads to the secondary theme of the danger of First Contact, of interfering (even with the best of intentions) in a culture you don’t really understand but think you do because of a few similarities to your own.
The seriousness of the main themes is nicely balanced by the infusion of humour throughout the book. The author does have quite a flair for witty bantering dialogue and the prose style is nice and smooth. The characters are very well developed though I would caution you not to become too attached to any of them. My only complaint is the mention of “Van Halen’s arena rock masterpiece, 5150”. Please! That’s like Van-Hagar! (if you have no idea what I’m on about just ignore this complaint).
OK, I’m almost done, just a quick look at a quote from Wikipedia:
"Nancy Pearl, a reviewer at Library Journal, felt that this book was mistakenly categorized as science fiction, and that it is really "a philosophical novel about the nature of good and evil and what happens when a man tries to do the right thing, for the right reasons and ends up causing incalculable harm."
When a “literati” type finds a sci-fi book that they like they tend to immediately declassify it as “not sci-fi”; aliens, spaceships, futuristic techs etc. notwithstanding of course. The Sparrow is definitely sci-fi, it even says so on the tin. Very good sci-fi it is too (unless you dislike religious themes then this is not for you). The sequel Children of God is very near the top of my TBR.
Damn Amazon and their clever marketing, Farseer Trilogy #1 (Kindle edition) priced at $0.99, Farseer Trilogy #2 at $7.99! Of course they know you areDamn Amazon and their clever marketing, Farseer Trilogy #1 (Kindle edition) priced at $0.99, Farseer Trilogy #2 at $7.99! Of course they know you are going to be hooked on the series by book #1, you’d have to be a philistine not to be (just kidding, if you truly dislike it just ignore me). I don’t even read a lot of fantasy these days, I used to read two sci-fi books for every fantasy title nowadays the ratio is more like 10:1. It’s just a personal preference, I prefer spaceships to dragons. Still, Assassin's Apprentice is a pattern buster for me, book #2 has already added to my TBR.
Assassin's Apprentice is a “bildungsroman”, such a funny little word that sounds like a German chewing gum. This is indeed a story of the protagonist’s growth from childhood to adulthood. There is even the obligatory frame narrative at the beginning and the end. All very tastefully done. This is the story of Fitz a young bastard son of a prince and a commoner of unknown background (she is basically not in this book). At the age of six Fitz is taken by his impoverished maternal granddad to an army base to be live with his royal relatives in the capital city of Buckkeep. Being a bastard he can hardly expect to live the high life, but the granddad just wants one less mouth to feed. He is immediately taken under the wings of Burrich a stableman, who teaches him to care for animals where he his discover a supernatural affinity to mentally communicate with them. At Buckkeep he begins to make friends and enemies and goes to different classes to learn various skills, fighting, reading, writing, manners etc. The most remarkable skill that he learns through highly secretive private lessons taught by an enigmatic teacher in the middle of the nights is Assassination. As time goes by he gets involved in court intrigues political machinations and of course assassination.
This is quite an eventful novel and I don't want to describe all the plot twist and turns because I'd be here all day and spoil the book for you. Suffice it to say that this is a very well written and entertaining book with enough pathos to be emotionally invested in. Robin Hobbs is a pseudonym of Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, her writing style reminds me of her fellow American SF/F authoresses Lois McMaster Bujold, and Connie Willis; smooth and clear prose, good witty dialogue and very good characterization.
The colorful almost Dickensian cast of characters is a particular strength of this novel. Fitz the protagonist is likable and sympathetic, he is talented but makes a lot of mistakes (He may be a bastard but he is not a complete bastard!). Thankfully he is not unbelievably good at everything he tries, a tired archetype of many fantasy protagonists. The master assassin Chade is suitably mysterious, stern but with a good heart, the most interesting supporting character is the Fool who speaks in riddles and possesses some kind of preternatural foreknowledge.
The antagonists are individually less interesting but there is a major threat called the Red-ship Raiders who turn good people into emotionless evil weirdoes. The world building is carefully done with a nice sense of place, the places Fitz finds himself in are quite vividly described. The fantasy aspect of the book is fairly subtle, no wild incantations of magic spells and such. The magic in this book tends to be types of mental powers, telepathy, telekinesis, second sight and such.
Assassin's Apprentice reminds me a little of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. This book actually predates both of them and has its own unique appeals. It is also not a children or YA book, the plot takes some very dark and violent turns. The theme of honestly, integrity, loyalty and courage is evident, and the author’s kindness and humanity shine through out the book; as is her love of dogs which are lovingly and believably portrayed here.
If you like fantasy and have not read this book then the recommendation is a no brainer. At $0.99 it is practically a giveaway; you can’t even get a decent hot dog for that....more
“He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.”
"We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account,
“He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.”
"We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets. I mean everything that I have said. I have the greatest contempt for optimism. As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested. If you want to mar a nature, you have merely to reform it."
Words to live by. LOL! This is surely the most quotable book I have ever read. I only chose the above quotes for a good giggle, there are many more pithy or profound ones in this novel. Besides being the most quotable book it is also one of the most misrepresented by pop culture. The movie adaptations tend to focus on the horror aspect of the book as if Wilde was a precursor to Lovecraft or something. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a more cerebral and allegorical than Hollywood would have you believe.
As with most classics I picked an audiobook version and where possible I opt for the free Librivox version over the commercial Audible one. I only require that the books are reasonably well read; this happens to be one of the good ones which I can recommend with a couple of minor reservations (more on that later). What I did not realize though is that Oscar Wilde wrote two editions of this book. The original was first published in 1890, and the considerably longer (and less overtly “gay”) 1891 edition followed in response to less than enthusiastic critics’ reviews. Any way, this Librivox version is of the original edition consisting of a mere 13 chapters instead of 20.
From the first few pages I was bowled over by the barrage of witticisms from Lord Henry Wotton who seems to have outrageous views on just about everything, and he can talk the hind legs off a donkey. Every “willful paradox” that comes out of his mouth is a gem. The first chapter alone is worth the price of the book (it’s free in Guttenberg e-book format any way). Oscar Wilde is famous for his wit and this book provides ample evidence, he did not so much write as orchestrated the language to create a work of art. The initial hilarity at the beginning of the book soon gives way to a much darker story and eventually culminates in a horrifying climax.
The central characters, like everything else in this book, are very well written. The artist Basil Hallward is decent, honest and kind (not to mention probably gay), the eponymous Dorian starts off as a naïve young gentleman and fairly quickly morphs into an infamous cad. As for the amazing Lord Henry, unfortunately for Dorian he is the sort of man who likes to talk people into committing all kinds of debauchery but never does it himself, as poor Basil points out early in the book.
I first read this book many years ago I remember liking the first few chapters very well but somehow when I first signed up to Goodreads I rated it at 3 stars as I was adding books to my bookshelf for the first time. For life of me I could not remember what the problem was. Well, I do now that I have just reread it. In spite of being extremely witty and hilarious at times this is not an entirely easy read; not because of the descent in tone into grimness, I don’t mind that at all. As it turned out the issue is only one chapter. If not for this very odd chapter the novel is actually quite easy to read.
I am talking about the lengthy Chapter 9 (1890 edition) which is Chapter 11 in the second edition (1891). This chapter takes place after Dorian has decided to adopt a hedonistic life style and reinvents himself as a very bad boy (but oh so elegant and well coiffed) under the wicked influence of Lord Henry. Almost the entire chapter is tangential to the story and consists of Wilde’s rumination on jewelry, embroidery, art and beauty etc. I dozed off a bit during this chapter (50 minutes narration, I am not sure what the page count is, 30 at least). I think Wilde should have placed it as an appendix, in fact after finishing the book I went back to read this particular chapter just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. There is a little plot in there somewhere but you have to stay awake the entire time not to miss it.
This audiobook version I just reviewed is read very nicely by John Gonzalez. My only reservations are that the book is set in England and all the characters are English while Mr. Gonzalez is an American, still, better a book well read in American accent than badly read by an Englishman. My other reservation is that there is a little bit of hiss in the background.
In any case this is a fantastic book and I will have to read the second edition before too long.
For a hilariously unconventional review I recommend taking a gander at this Thug Notes review on Youtube. "My man Wilde had to rewrite the book coz them publishers weren't chillin' on the bro on bro action!". (Paraphrased from memory)...more
“Was his controlled mind so concerned with obedience as to lose initiative? He felt a thickening despondency drive him down into a strange lassitude
“Was his controlled mind so concerned with obedience as to lose initiative? He felt a thickening despondency drive him down into a strange lassitude.”
Poor Captain Han Pritcher. Mind control is a common sci-fi trope but the feelings or thoughts of the person under control are rarely explored. This is what makes Part 1 of Second Foundation so special. As I mentioned in my review of Foundation and Empire The Mule is a terrific villain, clever and ruthless but no exactly evil and a little pitiful. This part of the book is entirely concerned with The Mule’s battle of wits against the eponymous Second Foundation. Where the First Foundation that we have come to know from the previous two books is made up of scientists the eponymous Second Foundation is made up of psychohistorians (or psychologists-cum-mathematicians). Their study and development of psychology over hundreds of years make the best of them the equals of the Mule in term of mental power. The showdown between a Second Foundation leader (“first Speaker”) and the Mule consist of moves and counter-moves almost entirely through dialog. This being Asimov the kickass climax does not actually involve feet coming into contact with posteriors; be that as it may the scene is very tautly written and has stayed with me for decades since I first read it.
Part 2 of Second Foundation is mainly concerned with the First Foundation’s search for the Second with the intent of destroying it. This turn of event surprises me a bit, suddenly the Second Foundation is cast in the role of antagonists (“ubiquitous menace”) in spite of having saved the First’s bacon in the preceding part. This makes the First Foundation seems like terrible ingrates. On the other hand nobody likes to have their minds tampered with so their hostility is somewhat understandable. Mixed into the main story arc of the search for the Second Foundation is a subplot concerning the First Foundation’s war with Kalgan. I personally find this warfare section a little dull compared to the much more interesting major plot; I am not at all surprised that I remember nothing of this aspect of the book from my previous reading.
The world building in this third volume is the best of in the trilogy, I particularly enjoy Asimov’s description of the Second Foundation’s culture. They do not communicate by telepathy but conduct whole conversations in micro-gestures (actually much more interesting this way). The denouement at the end of the book is particularly ingenious. Asimov does seem to enjoy pulling the rug from under the readers’ feet, and his enjoyment is infectious.
So that’s it, the entire legendary trilogy read in just one week due to the total page count being under 700 pages. My main reason for the reread is to go on to Foundation's Edge and subsequent Foundation novels, published around 30 years after the original trilogy which I have never read before. Really looking forward to that!...more
Continuing from my review of Foundation (book 1) just a few days ago, this is my take on volume 2 of the iconic original trilogy. The title FoundationContinuing from my review of Foundation (book 1) just a few days ago, this is my take on volume 2 of the iconic original trilogy. The title Foundation and Empire is something of a misnomer as the Galactic Empire has already faded in this book and its function is more like a prop than a player. When I first looked at the titles of the books in this trilogy in my teens I was also a little confused that Second Foundation is actually the third book! Still, at least I didn't make the mistake of reading Second Foundation before Foundation and Empire; that would have sucked.
Unlike Foundation (#1) Foundation and Empire is not a fix-up novel of several connected stories but it does consist of two novellas, “The General” and “The Mule ”. “The General” (Part 1 of the book) is indeed about “Foundation and Empire” where the Foundation comes under attack by the last remnant of the Galactic Empire led by the formidable General Bel Riose. The rather lame hero of the Foundation on this occasion is one Lathan Devers who does not actually outwit the Empire here but won because according to Hari Seldon’s arcane psychohistory algorithm it is statistically impossible for the Foundation to lose, almost like a preordainment.
It's interesting that I remember nothing about this shorter Part 1 of Foundation and Empire from my previous read decades ago. “The General” is a likable novella but it lacks compelling characters and, unlike previous Foundation stories, does not feature cunning heroics. It passes the time pleasantly enough but is basically just a warm up for the monumental Part 2 “The Mule”.
“The Mule” is kind of like The Foundation meets X-Men, well, may be not as we are only talking about one villainous insidious mutant with mental powers. I remember very well what happen in this part of the book in spite of having read it decades ago. I do have memory like a sieve so kudos to prof Asimov for writing something so unforgettable. “The Mule” is a fantastic villain, insidious and devious yet oddly sympathetic and pitiful. Anybody who says Asimov writes flat characters should have The Mule change his mind for him.
The less I say about this part of the book the netter I think. As this is a reread of a story I remember quite well the element of surprise is not there for me at the book’s denouement. In any case even for new readers Asimov did hint fairly strongly about the Mule’s identity in previous chapters. I envy you if you have not read Foundation and Empire before or if you have read but possess an even worse memory than mine (well, may be the latter not so much).
Yes, I have read Foundation before, chances are you have too! However, for some reason I missed out on the later Foundation books from Foundation's EdYes, I have read Foundation before, chances are you have too! However, for some reason I missed out on the later Foundation books from Foundation's Edge, I can barely remember who Hari Seldon is or why “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. So reread the series from the beginning it is then; no great hardship really, a fun time is already guaranteed, and the three volumes combined are shorter than a single book by Peter F. Hamilton.
The very first Foundation story was published in 1942, around the time poor Anne Frank was writing her diary. I first read the trilogy in an omnibus volume in the early 80s, before Foundation's Edge came out. I did of course gobble up all three books up at once, and I did love it, in fact I have never met anyone who does not like the Foundation Trilogy (and I don’t want to, I suspect they are all churls).
The trilogy is auspiciously my first sci-fi series, I have since read many others, though I don’t think I have read a better one (yes, I prefer it to the Dune trilogy). This first Foundation book is a fix-up novel of connected short stories, unlike some fix-up novels I have read these stories join up beautifully in to one cohesive novel. In this volume we meet the legendary Hari Seldon, the founder of the Foundation and ultra-brilliant “psychohistorian”, who is able to predict the future through mathematical algorithms combined with history, sociology and goodness knows what else. Such prediction is necessarily based on aggregate behavioral trends of vast numbers of people (billions). Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire and makes it his life’s mission to reduce the span of the dark ages which will inevitably follow. To this end the Foundation is established on a remote planet called Terminus ostensibly to compile a mega Encycloepdia Galactica but in truth to save mankind as a whole from an extended period of dark ages, and eventually to set up a Second Empire.
Seldon is not the only protagonist of Foundation, as the book spans hundreds of years and several generations three other heroes (no anti-heroes here) follow him: Salvor Hardin, Linmar Ponyets, and Hober Mallow. The first is a politician and the other two are traders. What they have in common is a can-do attitude, a disdain of violence, and the instinctive wiliness to outwit just about anybody they come across. In fact this series is a fine example of “The Triumph of Intellect and Romance Over Brute Force and Cynicism” (thank you Craig Ferguson). The showdown between these heroes and their antagonists are all battles of wit, no ass kicking is ever implemented.
What I did not appreciate in my teens is what a good writer and story teller Asimov is. He is not great prose stylist (witness the ample use of exclamation marks in the narrative), nor did he need to be for the type of stories he wanted to tell. However, there is a sincere and infectious enthusiasm in his story telling and a clarity that render the narrative very readable and entertaining; not to mention the witty and sardonic humour in much of the dialog. The scene where the Foundation citizens are waiting outside a vault for a hologram of Seldon to appear after 50 years is really quite thrilling.
The futuristic tech and world building are a lot of fun of course, though you will have to allow for some dated tech ideas or anachronisms such as messages printed on tapes, the use of microfilms and lack of AI (computers are not mentioned).
As good as this first Foundation volume is I find it to be the least exciting of the trilogy. I distinctly remember some edge of the seat developments in the two follow up volumes; more on them very soon.
I first read The Forever War a couple years ago in audiobook format, I quite liked it but to be honest it did not leave much of a lasting impression.I first read The Forever War a couple years ago in audiobook format, I quite liked it but to be honest it did not leave much of a lasting impression. I suspect the audiobook is not suitable for this particular book, I don’t remember there being anything wrong with the narration, I just could not retain much of the details after finishing it, just a vague feeling that it is quite good. I love audiobooks, but I am beginning to think that short sci-fi books are not really the ideal for this format. Which brings me to the reread in print format, The Forever War often crops up in “favorite sf books” discussions and I feel as if I haven’t really read it and this won’t do.
As you might expect The Forever war belongs to the subgenre of “military science fiction”, a subgenre I normally avoid unless the author has interesting points to make about war or military life. Books that focus on the action or thrills of military campaigns are anathemas to me. This book is more of an exploration of the nature and principles of warfare than about details of battles (though there is some of that also); basically it is an anti-war novel.
The book I finished reading just before starting this reread of The Forever War is Brave New World, it is interesting to compare the two as sci-fi books. To me the Aldous Huxley book is not really sci-fi as the emphasis is on the social satire and the futuristic setting and sci-fi tropes are tools for the author to communicate his cautionary message. The Forever War is unabashedly sci-fi, certainly it is an allegory of the Vietnam War which the author Joe Haldeman served in. However, Haldeman’s knowledge of physics and engineering is clearly evident in the hard science parts, and the futuristic tech is clearly aimed at sci-fi readers. The only soft or handwavium sci-fi element is the FTL spaceflight through “collapsar jumps”; and this plot device is very cleverly and logically used to explore the implications of time dilation.
The book is very well written and the (first person) narrative tone gradually changes from a sardonic tone in the early chapters to a more matter of fact tone and then a melancholic tone towards the end. The book is too short and densely plotted or all the characters to be fully developed but the protagonist William Mandella and narrator is very sympathetic and believable. I also love the way the book suddenly switch from the war setting to a dystopian near future Earth, then back to the war and then a far future setting for the novel’s conclusion. The middle section set on Earth is really my favorite part of the book, with the drastically changed culture and social mores. If I have one complaint it is the overlong section which tells the story of the final battles with the aliens Taurans, personally I always find scenes of military engagements very dull, though you may feel differently. Fortunately when that is over we arrive at a wonderful twist and denouement, I do not find the eventual fate of Mandella and his girlfriend quite believable but it is by no means unsatisfactory.
While I was reading about the final battles in the later chapters I was speculating whether to rate this book at 4 stars because I found those battle scenes a little tedious, but after finishing it I feel a 5 stars rating is a more accurate representation of my esteem....more
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacu
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
When in doubt always start reviews with a quote I always say, the above quote encapsulates the essence of Brave New World quite well I think. This is one of those very widely read books that needs no introduction (or a review really). It is surely a granddaddy of dystopian science fiction, along with Orwell’s 1984, who would have thought grim novels like these two would pave the way for today’s block busting lovey dovey adventure time dystopian fiction books.
Brave New World is included in most “all-time great” sci-fi books lists, usually in the top 10. While it uses the sci-fi tropes of a futuristic setting, genetic engineering, cloning and so forth the book reads more like a satire of society at the time (first published in 1932) than a straight sci-fi novel. As such it works very well, it is beautifully written, funny, shocking, tragic and of course thought provoking.
The future world (well, the UK) posited by this book is one in which the populace are all created in hatcheries and divided into castes from birth through the process of genetic engineering and conditioning (brain washing) from infancy. Members of the working class ,“Gamma”, “Delta” and “Epsilon”, are all clones with minimum intelligence designed for working in dull repetitive jobs, at the other end of the social spectrum are the “Alpha” and “Beta” class of intelligent and more naturally developed people for jobs in administration, science and art; though they are also heavily conditioned (brainwashed). A state approved and distributed drug called Soma is freely available for all.
Entering into this state controlled society is John “The Savage”, a man accidentally born in a reservation outside civilization by natural birth. John finds himself fish out of water everywhere he goes, inside and outside of civilization. It is through John’s eyes that we witness the inhumanity of this “World State” society. His main antagonist is the highly intelligent Mustapha Mond, the Controller for Western Europe. Mond is very similar to O'Brien from 1984, he is very articulate, his arguments tend to be intelligent and persuasive until you think about the deeper moral implication and the inhumanity underlying his philosophy. The “showdown” of this book is a lengthy philosophical debate between Mond and John that is fascinating and well worth repeated reading.
The novel goes through several tonal shifts from satirical and humorous to alarming, melodramatic and tragic. It is written with consummate skills and wit. I particularly like the new spins Huxley has given to words like “viviparous” and “pneumatic”. There are some experimental passages in Chapter 3 where the narrative intercuts back and forth between three different scenes occurring simultaneously, that took me by surprise a bit, I thought it was a printing error in the book until I looked up some information about this chapter online (plenty of online sources for analysis of this book).
Brave New World is an amazing book which should appeal to fans of "trending" dystopian fiction (in spite of the absence of teenagers falling in love), you have read the rest, now read the best. More importantly it makes you think about the moral and ethical issues implicit in the book. It also makes me want to reread 1984 which is a more grim and badass book....more
Mission of Gravity is, I believe, the granddaddy of hard science fiction. It is often mentioned when discussions of hard sf come up. For some reason tMission of Gravity is, I believe, the granddaddy of hard science fiction. It is often mentioned when discussions of hard sf come up. For some reason the label hard sf usually lead me to expect serious moody novels. For no good reason I tend to equate serious science with serious stories, imagine my surprise when Mission of Gravity turns out to be something of a romp, a good one too. Another point worth mentioning is that while the book was first published in 1953 it still holds up well today because the real world science Clement employs is still valid today.
The main attraction of the book for hard sf fans is probably the world building. The planet Mesklin is an “oblate spheroid” in shape resulting in different gravity levels from the poles to equator. The minimum gravity there is still three times that of earth (3g) and the max is all of 700g. The native intelligent race of this planet, the “Mesklinites”, is consequently centipede like in shape to stay close to the ground where a small drop of a foot in a high gravity area can be fatal. Building on this great scenario Hal Clement creates a culture where the concept of flying and throwing is unheard of and all the natives are afraid of height. The science makes all these details very plausible without sacrificing the sense of wonder, enhancing it even.
Another great gimmick of this novel is that the narrative is mostly told from an alien point of view, one specific alien protagonist named Barlennan. A rather roguish, cunning, and likable captain of a raft called The Bree. character. The Mesklinites remind me a little of the primitive aliens in Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest and Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. Fortunately they are gifted linguists and adaptable to new concepts and experiences so they are able to work with and learn from the humans. I really love this kind of good natured sf story where species learn to work together for mutual benefits. Stories where hideous aliens are blasted to smithereens by super weapons are fun but a change is as good as a rest.
The plot mainly concerns a mission to retrieve a stranded manmade rocket containing valuable information which accidentally landed on one of the planet’s poles. Barlennan and his crew undertake to retrieve this rocket in exchange for knowledge for the advancement of their people. A lot of exploration and adventure ensues and while the ending is not exactly unpredictable I find it quite pleasing.
Mission of Gravity is a short novel of less than 200 pages in length. The book by itself is out of print but as part of the Heavy Planet The Classic Mesklin Stories omnibus volume which contains a sequel called Star Light, some short stories and an essay; all for the price of one book. An offer you can’t refuse I think. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the volume soon. Great fun and educational, what’s not to like?...more
For some reason I always find Larry Niven much better with Jerry Pournelle than without; Inferno, Lucifer's Hammer and Footfall are all winners (theyFor some reason I always find Larry Niven much better with Jerry Pournelle than without; Inferno, Lucifer's Hammer and Footfall are all winners (they have collaborated on quite few other titles but I have not read them yet). The Mote in God's Eyeis generally considered to be their partnership’s best book (have a look at Larry Niven’s Goodreads page).
I believe the blurb by Robert A. Heinlein that appears on many editions of the book’s cover* has been around since its first publication in 1974; and it has undoubtedly helped to shift thousands of copies (mine included). I guess it is a little like if you were a guitarist and Jimmi Hendrix tells people you can shred like a demented mofo. Who can resist that kind of recommendation? Is it just hyperbole though? Is The Mote in God's Eye worthy of the accolade?
Yes it is.
This is a first contact story rendered very believable and engrossing by the authors’ skills and attention to details. The “Moties” are one of the most well conceived alien races I have ever come across. They are very alien, very strange yet they have enough human character traits to be understandable. Of course completely inscrutable aliens are fun but the more understandable aliens can be more emotionally invested in.
As the novel was written in the 70s its age inevitably shows in places. There are terms like “hyperspace” and “pocket computer” that we do not see in modern sci-fi. Today’s authors tend to invent new words for “hyperspace” and “pocket computer” sounds very quant as they are now commonplace in the form of smartphones and tablets. These few terms notwithstanding I would argue that The Mote in God's Eye stands the test of time very well. The alien’s design and their extreme specialization are just as wonderfully “SF-nal” on this reread as it was when I first read about it decades ago.
I have no idea who write what in the Niven / Pournelle partnership but they clearly work very well together, there is a unified voice in their highly readable prose style. The characters are better than just flat plot devices, though the book is clearly more about the plot than the characters. Both authors are excel at writing hard science fiction and the science details make the story that much more vivid and believable without ever bogging the book down with excessive infodumping. The “dramatis personae” at the beginning of the book kindly provided by the authors to help the readers keep track of a fairly large cast of characters is an interesting feature. However, the book is written so well that I never found it necessary to refer to it at any time.
The central and very human theme of this book seems to be how difficult it is for different races to coexist peacefully when there is a conflict of interest and when negotiations are hampered by deceptions. The issue is not entirely resolved in this book but leaves a lot of room for the readers to speculate and draw their own conclusions. There is a less well received sequel called The Gripping Hand which I am not sure I will read as I am more than satisfied with this book’s ending.
One of the all-time greats IMO.
* Heinlein’s blurb reads “possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read”....more
Try saying that backward (or forward, which is equally challenging).
H.P. Lovecraft is definitely the granddaddy of “Cosmic Horror” and Weird Fiction. He is often mentioned in science fiction / fantasy / horror related web sites and forums, not to mention myriad other kinds of web sites. Reading fans raving about his works and seeing the numerous fan arts online make many of us genre fiction enthusiasts want to start getting into his fiction to see what the fuss is all about. I suspect a lot of first time readers of Lovecraft are disappointed at what they find. The way he goes about telling his stories is very idiosyncratic, he has a tendency to overwrite and be highly verbose. This can be very disappointing and off-putting if you choose the wrong story to start with and you were expecting a quick thrilling read.
This is where the unwieldily titled The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre comes in. This is a “greatest hits” type of anthology which is ideal for the uninitiated and of course fans who want their favorite stories all in one book. It does not include the novellas At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which is just as well as these are not so suitable starting places. I think it is better to get used to (and forgive) the author’s verbiage and appreciate the otherwise awesomeness of his stories.
A lot of the stories tend to be supernatural / sci-fi hybrids with witches and wizards summoning aliens from another planet or dimension by magic. Here is my quick run-through of the stories in this collection:
Introduction by Robert Bloch - Best known for Psycho, one of his protégés. A good intro to Lovecraft the man and his fiction. Don’t skip it.
The Rats in the Walls - As your very first Lovecraft story his convoluted prose style may take a while to get used to. The climax is spectacular but also a bit of a mess in the narrative department. The story is great though, worth a reread later on.
The Picture in the House - The book that drips blood; where the useless protagonist runs away just when things are heating up to a critical point, next time stay at home old chap! Nice, short and atmospheric though.
The Outsider - A story of self-discovery. Great twist at the end. Awesome in a most eldritch way.
Pickman’s Model - You are in for a treat with this one. Classic Lovecraft, one of his most popular and enduring stories. The colloquial writing style is rather unusual for Lovecraft I think. Possibly his most accessible story and a great starting point for new readers.
In the Vault - Break a leg! An amusing and rather inconsequential little story.
The Silver Key - Time travelling shenanigan featuring some Lovecraft’s patented awful faux-hillbilly dialog. A Twilight Zone-ish story.
The Music of Erich Zann - Featuring a man who is attracted by weird music. Next time just buy a Yoko Ono album. Actually one of HPL’s most popular stories. Doesn’t really do much for me unfortunately. The bloody protagonist does a runner again just when things are getting interesting.
The Call of Cthulhu - The narrative is a little fragmented and the story is rather incohesive, but there is some tremendous world building going on in this story. The creepy atmosphere is very well done and for once the monster actually shows up in all its glory (HPL’s monsters generally prefer to lurk and mess with your head). This story is also often cited as evidence of his racism. According to Robert Bloch Lovecraft did become more mellow and tolerant of foreigners after marriage.
The Dunwich Horror - This is what newcomers to Lovecraft are probably looking for. A great, thrilling and creepy tale. That Wilbur Whateley reminds me of Damian in the Omen movies a bit to begin with. He changes later on though (not for the better of course)
The Whisperer in Darkness - Gives new meaning to “the Kodak moment”, talk about product placement! A very creepy story featuring weird floating monstrosities and a whispery ET.
The Colour Out of Space - This! Ladies and gentlemen. This! Lovecraft’s best story (IMO). For a change the story is pure sci-fi, no chanting monks, witches, voodoo or Cthulhu. The poor Gardners’ family literal disintegration thanks to a meteor falling on their farm will surely give you the heebie-jeebies.
The Haunter of the Dark - Set in Italy. The story of a weird black church. If you spot a copy of the Necronomicon by “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred in a church head for the exit immediately.
The Thing on the Doorstep - This also! What a great body swap story, much better than Freaky Friday. Featuring the eponymous Thing on the Doorstep whose catchphrase is “Glub!”. Brrrr!
The Shadow Over Innsmouth - Oh my Gawd! A blasphemously amazing story of some very fishy folks. Set mainly in the creepiest town ever. Featuring a very cool twist.
The Dreams in the Witch-House Featuring a witch, a rat with a man’s face and a sort of hyperspace bypass. The narrative is a little rambling for my taste but a great story is embedded in there.
The Shadow Out of Time - Another story of involuntary body swap. The Great Race aliens are almost benign by HPL’s standard, unauthorized body swap notwithstanding. It is a longish story (70 pages or so), it starts off very fascinating but Lovecraft goes into his rambling mode in the second half of the story. An example of his overwriting. Still a great story though, one that will stay with you.
Due to his verbiage, thin characters and appalling dialogs Lovecraft’s dissenters often dismiss him as a bad writer. If so he is the most excellent bad writer of all time. The thing about his writing is that while some of stories will have you nodding off while wading through the long winded prose, but once you get to the end of the stories you realize that they are actually quite good. Also when he is on top form, such as in The Colour Out of Space where the narrative is very evocative and the story is just right, he is unbeatable.
The web site Cthulhuchick has kindly put together a free e-book of the Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft in several formats. The download link is on the main front page.
You can read any and all of Lovecraft's stories online at Dagonbytes.
It’s been at least a couple of years since I read anything by Stephen King. The reason is that when I was making my Goodreads shelf it became apparentIt’s been at least a couple of years since I read anything by Stephen King. The reason is that when I was making my Goodreads shelf it became apparent that I seem to have read more books by him than anybody else. So less familiar authors on my TBR list tend to take precedence. Also I think King was at his peak in the 80s, his 90s outputs dip a little in quality and his 21st century books even more so. Of his post 2000 AD books that I have read Lisey's Story, Under the Dome and Duma Key are not bad but not really up to his high standard. 2002’s From a Buick 8 is probably his worst novel
Still, I keep hearing about 11/22/63, how good it is and how it is a “return to form”. The same thing was said about Under the Dome but it did not quite pan out that way for me (it really is not too shabby but it is not vintage King either). So I have added 11/22/63 to my TBR list where it languished for over a year before I finally got around to it.
Going into 11/22/63 is like coming home, King’s casual, almost conversational writing style is always immensely readable and immediately plunges you into the world of his story. That 11/22/63 is a story about a man who time travels from 2011 to 1963 to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the eponymous date of the book’s title is fairly well known and probably does not need to be elaborated upon. Of more interest to me is that although time travel is one of the oldest and common place science fiction tropes 11/22/63 is not actually science fiction. The protagonist Jake Epping does not have a time machine of any kind. The way it works here is more like a Twilight Zone scenario where there is a crack in reality and our hero simply steps through.
It is interesting that the main characters call the time portal a “rabbit hole”, in space operas the gateway through time is usually a “wormhole”, a shortcut through spacetime. King’s “rabbit hole” is more of an Alice in Wonderland reference than another name for the sort of wormhole you find in a Peter F. Hamilton novel. With this almost magical plot device King is able to make up some unusual rules to make time traveling a bit awkward for Epping. No actual reason is given for the odd way time traveling functions in this book, and none is needed, it is basically an important plot device to enable King to tell the story he wants to tell.
One of the major attractions of reading a Stephen King book is the characters you will meet. King always effortlessly fleshes out his characters and make them not only believable but seem like people you actually know very well by the end of the book. So while Jake Epping is a stock Stephen King everyman protagonist who has greatness thrust upon him he is never two dimensional, and you go through the wringers with him.
The time traveling aspect of the book is very well done, I expected no less from an author of King’s caliber. I do love the uniqueness in the mechanics of his approach to it though. I don’t want to elaborate on this as it is worth discovering for yourself. Speaking of mechanics I also started to see the internal workings behind some of King’s writing in this book. The way he would drop foreboding sentences here and there. The way certain scenes become predictable only to be followed by a scene out of left field. It makes his craftsmanship even more admirable to me.
I have not thought of King as a “horror writer” for a long time now and 11/22/63 is not particularly horrifying in spite of some flinch inducing violence. More importantly it is a great yarn, imaginatively and passionately told. Evidently Stephen King’s mojo is still very much intact....more
One flavor of sci-fi that I particular enjoy is when the story is set in the present day. Galaxy spanning future worlds are great, but the sort of sceOne flavor of sci-fi that I particular enjoy is when the story is set in the present day. Galaxy spanning future worlds are great, but the sort of scenario where we start off with the present day world we are living in and weirdness ensue is often a lot of fun. It also has the advantage of being immediately accessible (usually) as there are less world building and neologism to familiarize with. Some good examples of such sf books would be The Midwich Cuckoos, Childhood's End, The War of the Worlds, and Way Station
Spin is another fine example of this type of science fiction. While it is quite easy to get into it is not short on “sensawonder” and there is some very interesting world building (in a very literal sense) later on in the book. I tend to avoid writing synopses (lazy you know) but sometime it is an unavoidable integral part of the review. The basic premise in a nutshell is aliens put a black bag over the Earth inside which time runs much slower than outside the bag. Of course this is a very rough simplification because the bag is not a bag as such, it is some kind of cosmic membrane encasement, which comes with an artificial sun. The implication of this situation is quite intriguing as time whizzes by outside this encasement our Sun will evolve into a red giant in a few billion years and its gargantuan size will eventually render poor old Earth uninhabitable. The process takes a few billion years but that only gives Earth a few years as we are in a slow time environment while time speed by outside. I will not go into the why and wherefore of it of course.
With that premise you would expect some kind of hard sf where the story is paramount and the individual characters merely facilitate to drive the plot. Surprisingly this is not the case at all. Wilson puts equal emphasis on developing his characters as he does the epic sci-fi concept. There is a lot of human melodrama which verges on soap operatic at times. What with the unrequited love of the main protagonist and the story of childhood friendship that reminds me of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a little.
I don’t want to go into any more details as they are well worth discovering for yourself. Beside the ingenious story and the characterization the book is also very well written. I entirely agree with what Jo Walton wrote in her review:
"This is the kind of book that makes me feel excited by science fiction all over again. It makes me want to jump up and down and say “Read it, read it, read it!” to all my friends."
The last volume of the mind blowing, thought provoking Lilith’s Brood series (I prefer the original name Xenogenesis myself, it has a nice sci-fi ringThe last volume of the mind blowing, thought provoking Lilith’s Brood series (I prefer the original name Xenogenesis myself, it has a nice sci-fi ring to it).
Jodahs the protagonist of this book is another offspring of Lilith Iyapo. The least human of the series' central characters, especially after its first metamorphosis. As Jodahs is neither male or female, and certainly not a hermaphrodite, the pronoun it is the only appropriate one for referring to characters of the “ooloi” gender; he third sex of the alien Oankali race.
The story of Imago is basically a Bildungsroman, centered around the adventures of Jodahs. As if being an ooloi is not alien enough he (I'm slipping back into using he instead of it again, old habits) is even more alien than the average ooloi, being the first of this third gender to have human gene as well as Oankali. This necessitates that he goes into exile until he can control his genetic manipulation abilities; as the other aliens are concerned that he will inadvertently contaminate them, their biotech habitat, food sources etc. Fortunately he has his family going along with him to back him up. After straying in the woods with his family for a whole he soon wanders off on his own and soon encounters a couple of humans who he seduces to become his mates.
That is probably the longest synopsis I have ever written, I normally avoid writing these like the plague but sometime I find a synopsis to be an unavoidable component of the review. Perhaps because there are so many bizarre concepts which need to be mentioned in order to proceed with the review. As with the other books in this series weird biotechnology is the main sci-fi aspect. While amazing the sci-fi fans with her wild inventions Ms. Butler is subtly making us ponder what it means to be human and whether it is worth preserving our humanity at all cost. The problem with being human, according to the Oankali’s observation, is that “the human biological contradiction” dictates that we will eventually self destruct because we can not refrain from hierarchical behavior. Basically being human is not what it is cracked up to be.
The theme of xenophobia is also more prominent in this volume, how an open mind is required to achieve racial harmony. While conveying her ideas and themes Butler never forget that she is telling a story, more importantly a science fiction story. The novel is rich in subtext which can be inferred from reading between the lines, but reading the lines themselves is always entertaining, thrilling and involving. As with all her works the characters are very well developed and believable, and the writing is powerful. The book is also weirdly erotic in places without ever becoming sexually explicit or titillating.
As my friend Michael kindly pointed out to me there is also an element of alien invasion in this trilogy. However, from the Oankali’s point of view the invasion is for our own good. They believe they are saving us from self destruction (“the human biological contradiction”), even if it means taking away our freedom to choose. The story so far, from their initial rescue of the few remaining humans in Dawn, would indicate that they may be right. However, mating with the Oankali would lead to hybrid offsprings and eventual end of the original human race.
After reviewing the two previous volumes of this series I am almost out of hyperbole. One bold statement I can make is that Lilith’s Brood series (or Xenoegenesis) is my all time favorite sf series, and I have read all the greats, Dune, Foundation, Hyperion etc. Thank you Ms. Butler....more
Mind blowing, thought provoking, thrilling stuff. (Plenty more hyperbole in the above mentioned reviews!)
One thing I particularly want to mention about the author is I love how she embraced the "science fiction author" label. Unlike some "literary" talented authors who prefer to avoid the sci-fi label she took pride in it. Certainly I agree that it is an author's prerogative how they want their works or themselves to be classified, which makes Octavia Butler's choice that much more meaningful, the photo below beautifully illustrates this point:
I find it oddly difficult to review an Octavia Butler book without filling it to the brim with cringe inducing sentimentality and hyperbole but I'll bI find it oddly difficult to review an Octavia Butler book without filling it to the brim with cringe inducing sentimentality and hyperbole but I'll be damned if she doesn't make me all pensive and a touch maudlin every time I read her books. I get this feeling that her kindness and compassion always seep through her books and it makes me feel a little wistful that she is no longer with us.
Adulthood Rites is the second volume of the Lilith's Brood trilogy. In a nutshell it is the story of the last humans living under the domination of seemingly benign aliens (“Oankali”) who saved our species from extinction on an almost destroyed Earth. The saved people are taken away to live on board their spaceships while the aliens clean up the Earth to make it habitable again. The first book Dawn is about life on board the ship, Adulthood Rites is about mankind’s return to repopulate the Earth and the price we have to pay for the alien’s rescue.
This second volume shifts the focus of the story to the point of view of a new protagonist Akin who is the son of Lilith lyapo, the main character of Dawn, and two other alien parents. Interbreeding with the alien is the price we have to pay for being rescued from extinction. The mating system is pretty weird but don’t expect to read any scene of kinky threesome sexual congress. For the sci-fi enthusiasts there is plenty of mind blowing bio-technology with living ships, habitats food processing units and other bizarre devices. The Oankali aliens with their versatile tentacles, metamorphosis and third sexual gender are wondrously imagined. The post-apocalypse Earth being repopulated is also very vivid.
The main virtue of the book for me though is the ideas, themes or principles behind these wild inventions. Ms. Butler communicates her points through story telling without the narrative ever coming across like preaching. One of the major themes of this book is man’s “genetic contradiction” which is our tendency to combine intelligence with hierarchical behavior which eventually leads to blowing ourselves up. According to the aliens, left to our own devices Man will always self-destruct but we are too valuable as a species to allow becoming extinct so they have modified the humans to only procreate with at least one alien partner.
The story is full of dilemma and moral quandaries, everybody is right and wrong at same time. If I was reading this book as a teenager I would have been swept away by the sense of wonder and the world building. Reading it as an adult I find much more interesting issues to think about. Ms. Butler’s character development talent is second to none. They are so believable that sometimes the well-intentioned but obstinate characters actually make me angry. There are no mustache twirling villains or (God forbid) “Dark Lords” here but the ordinary people seem much more dangerous.
You will probably want to skip this paragraph because it will probably make you roll your eyes. I just want to say that I think Octavia Butler epitomizes the best of what a human being could aspire to be in term of decency, kindness and wisdom. I am not looking forward to reading all her books because then there won’t be any more. That said I am going to read the final book in this trilogy, Imago, immediately after this!...more
I “audio-read” this book for about two months on my one hour daily commutes to work. It made the journeys very pleasant and I barely notice the dull sI “audio-read” this book for about two months on my one hour daily commutes to work. It made the journeys very pleasant and I barely notice the dull sceneries as they go by. The journey of Don Quixote and his trusty squire Sancho Panza is much more vivid and enjoyable.
I had my doubts about the basic premise of this book. A crazy old guy with a Buzz Lightyear-like delusion travels through Spain with a peasant sidekick. How did the author manage to fill a thousand or so pages with that? Would the joke not have worn thin to the point of implosion by the end of the book? Ironically these doubts attract me toward the book rather than repel me. Not being a cat I quite like indulging my curiosity.
The book got off to a rocky start for me with a bunch of sonnets in the first chapter which nearly unmanned me and send me running, but once I am done with them it was pretty much plain sailing all the way. A two months voyage if you will. While reading the first five or so chapters I did get the feeling that the story is rather repetitious, basically just one misadventure after another. Don Q travelling across the land, making a public nuisance of himself, and Sancho going along in the hope of financial gains. However, as I read on these characters do come alive and begin to seem like old friends, to the extent that I was quite happy just to tag along and see what nonsense they get up to. The basic routine seems to be that the duo travel along with no set destination, come across some people minding their own business, and half the time mistaking them for enemies, giants or wizards, start messing with them and consequently get their asses kicked. I expected to be tired of such shenanigan well before the end of the book but the author seems well aware of this possibility and switches gear with the narrative as the story progress. Most chapters tend to be episodic with several “side stories” interspersed into the main adventure of our heroes. There is even a fairly lengthy novella entitled: “The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious” which is kind of silly yet thought provoking. Various colorful characters enter and leave the novel providing needed variation from just Don Q and his antics.
The novel’s greatest strength for me is the character development. Don Quixote is not like any lunatic I have ever seen or heard about. While his insanity is relentless it also seems to be oddly systematic or deliberate. He can speak eloquently and sensibly about all kinds of things until he or somebody else shoehorns in the subject of knight errantry then his dementia comes into full display. Sancho Panza, the Robin to his Batty Man, is no less anomalous. His IQ seems to fluctuate with no discernible pattern, plus he is a proverbs machine, with none of the proverbs ever suited to the occasion.
This novel is divided into two parts and I find “Part II” (originally published ten years after Part I) even funnier and more entertaining than Part I. In this second volume Don Quixote and Sancho have become legends in their own lunchtime as “Volume I” is published and become something of a best seller. Consequently many of the new characters that are introduced in this part of the book know immediately who they are and often help to facilitate their madness just for kicks. Much hilarity ensues.
Toward the end I did feel that the book is rather overwritten and I imagined that the job of abridging this book probably is not all that hard as it seems fairly obvious which chapters could easy being jettisoned. However, once I arrived at the poignant final chapter felt a feeling of regret that I have to leave these two crazy buggers now. Looks like a reread in printed format is in order. May be I will read it in the Batcave.
"God gave her to me because you turned your back upon her, and He looks upon her as mine: you've no right to her! When a man turns a blessing from hi
"God gave her to me because you turned your back upon her, and He looks upon her as mine: you've no right to her! When a man turns a blessing from his door, it falls to them as take it in."
One of the main reasons I like reading Victorian novels is for the eloquence. The above quote there is spoken by the eponymous Silas Marner, a character with little in the way of education or wealth, so there is a plainness in his eloquence. In his position I would have said "F*k off mister, finders keepers!". Which is why I am not a novelist.
Silas Marner is a simple tale of a lonely miser who finds an abandoned child and decides to raise her as his own, The theme of how loving a child can "reawakening the senses" and "unfold the soul" is fairly common in fiction and popular culture. Movies like "Three Men and a Baby", "Despicable Me" and "Big Daddy" milk the theme for all it's worth, but it takes a major talent like George Eliot to achieve any kind of resonance. Silas starts off as a nice and simple guy with tremendous weaving skills and above average herbal knowledge, after being ripped off by his best friends and falsely accused he moves to another town settle into a rather Scrooge-ish existence, away from the nearest population. The poor fellow is soon ripped off again by robbery but shortly finds a greater wealth through a child that he learns to love.
The transformation of Silas from a miserable antisocial recluse to a popular kindly man rings very true to me. I have personally experienced a similar transformation when a child entered my life. Later in the book Silas is given an option of wealth in exchange for his adopted daughter and the theme of what real wealth really is becomes evident. Financial wealth becomes insignificant in comparison to parental love.
There is not a lot a can think of to write about such a straight forward and rather short novel. Suffice it to say that it is a heartfelt story that I have no hesitation in recommending. Once I again I am grateful for Librivox.org for making the audiobook version available for free. As their books are read by volunteers some are better than others, the quality of the audiobooks in their huge catalogue is definitely variable. However, this version of Silas Marner is skillfully read by “Tadhg” in a very charming Irish lilt. Reading books like this make me feel that life is good (then my boss shows up and shatters the illusion).
I have been squirreling away Octavia Butler books. I consider myself an avid fan of her works yet I have only read two of her novels so far (Wild SeedI have been squirreling away Octavia Butler books. I consider myself an avid fan of her works yet I have only read two of her novels so far (Wild Seed and Kindred), and the last one was sometime last year. My rationale is that there are only a finite number of Butler books available to read as the lady is no longer with us. If I binge on them now there will not be any more new Butler books to read and I will only have rereads to look forward to. As I love both Wild Seed and Kindred very much her books are safe bets for me, so I may well save them for a rainy day.
Dawn is volume 1 of Ms. Butler’s Lilith's Brood trilogy. I actually bought the omnibus edition (containing all three volumes) but as I have just finished Dawn I thought I’d review this first as a single book. It is the story of Lilith lyapo (the L in the surname is not capitalized for some reason) who wakes up from suspended animation in a spaceship to find herself a captive of an alien species called the Oankali who train her to be the leader of other captive humans in a project to repopulate previously devastated Earth. That seems very nice of them but of course they have their own agenda…
That is as much of a synopsis as you can expect from me, any more and I’d spoil the book. The best thing about this book for me is the world building. I do love to read about biotechnology where living organisms are used for everything instead of metallic and plastic. Living spaceships, living houses and furniture etc. So I was happy to immerse in this world (well, ship) that Butler created in such vivid details.
Beside the immense imagination that goes into her sf books Ms. Butler is also adept at creating believable characters that we can invest our emotion in. The underlying themes of captivity without imprisonment and subjugation by a relatively benign master seem to be common in her works (at least from what I have read so far). Another major theme in this book is “what does it mean to be human?” Lilith is genetically modified internally to enhance her strength, healing and other abilities, once the other humans find out they accuse her of no longer being human. Later another person is found to be modified and summarily murdered in spite of never having done anybody any harm. It makes me wonder about the term “inhumane”, does it have anything to do with humanity? Is the murderer more human but less humane?
The book ends on an intriguing note though not a cliff hanger. I am looking forward to read the rest of the saga. As always Octavia Butler's prose is elegant, smooth and very readable, another major attraction for me is that her compassion always shines through her work and while reading her books I sometime feel a little melancholic that she is not around any more to make the world a better place.
Revelation Space was the first Reynolds book I read, I imagine it is the starting point for most Reynolds readers as it is his best known and breakthrRevelation Space was the first Reynolds book I read, I imagine it is the starting point for most Reynolds readers as it is his best known and breakthrough book. While I quite like some of Revelation Space I was not exactly won over by it. I found some of it quite hard to follow and the pace flagged from time to time. However, I understood and liked enough of it to try another Reynolds book. Happily that turned out to be House of Suns, a book now firmly ensconced in my SF Top 20 bookshelf, it is a brilliant standalone book, not part of the Rev Space series. A few months after that I read Chasm City (a standalone novel set in the Rev Space universe) , and it was a case of "He Shoots, He Scores!" again.
My reservation about reading Redemption Ark is that it is apparently a continuation of Revelation Space, a book I did not like that much, and thanks to my sieve-like memory I have forgotten most of the details of the settings, events, characters names etc. Still, I really wanted to read it as it is Reynolds' highest rated book (in average score) on Goodreads. Fortunately I came across Cecily's excellent review where she mentioned that it could be read as a standalone, that is good enough for me, I'll do some Googling if I really need help. So here we are! Now, if you want to read a well written and intelligent review of this book head over to the aforementioned Cecily's review, on the other hand if you are in the market for a rambling, incoherent review you have come to the right place.
The events of Redemption Ark take place a few decades after the end of Revelation Space, the central plot concerns the search for "hell-class weapons" which - as the name implies - are basically futuristic super duper WMD capable of wiping out spaceships and probably whole planets with a single shot. They are needed to protect humanity from The Inhibitors (AKA The Wolves) whose mission in life appears to be the destruction of intelligent life wherever they find it (their motivation is more complex than that but that is spoiler territory). Fans of Reynold's mind blowing epic epicness will not be disappointed with the scale of Redemption Ark. The Inhibitors are playing an extremely long game here.
The book features a couple of characters from the previous book but the central character is Nevil Clavain a man who has taken it upon himself to save humanity and having a suitably miserable time of it, I mean whoever heard of a proper hero with a "joie de vi·vre" attitude?
As with all the Reynolds books I have read Redemption Ark is full of "sensawonder" inventions in an epic scale setting. This book is a huge improvement on Revelation Space in term of writing and characterization. One problem I found with Revelation Space is that the female characters seem to be badass Ellen Ripley types.
(Ellen Ripley, she's the one on the left with the gun!)
The two returning characters Ilia Volyova and Ana Khouri have matured a lot since Revelation Space, they now seem less like kickass sci-fi babes than believable human beings with flaws and insecurities. Nevil Clavain is a very complex and conflicted individuals, even the villainous characters have understandable motivation, not to mention one or two sympathetic AI characters. Along the way there are passages that ruminate upon the meaning and value of sentience, even the idea of "love" is examined in intelligent non-saccharine terms. I am a sucker for characters redemption, I often feel moved when a character is convincingly redeeming himself / herself. As the title implies redemption is a central theme of the book. One particular chapter brought a lump to my throat and that is where the fifth star of the book's rating is earned. Every book that I rate at five stars made me feel something, like a wee touch at the emotional core. Such books are all too rare (which may be a good thing, otherwise I'd be an emotional wreck every time I read a book).
Robert Silverberg is possibly the most underrated sf writers of all time, considering that he has been writing sf since the 50s, won numerous Hugo, NeRobert Silverberg is possibly the most underrated sf writers of all time, considering that he has been writing sf since the 50s, won numerous Hugo, Nebula and other major sf awards, and is a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master. In spite of all this he never seems to be "in vogue" these days, most of the younger generation of sf readers today have never read anything by him. I believe this is indicative of how criminally underrated he is and the ongoing decline of civilization as we know it.
What Silverberg does better than almost any sf authors writing today is to write short stand alone novels with very strange plots and excellent characterization. His special talent is to drop the reader right in the middle of a strange place and time of his imagining and gradually acclimatize you through his story telling skills.
The Book of Skulls is a very odd book, even among the very odd books he has written. The basic plot is very simple, four American college boys seek immortality in a monastery in the Arizona desert. The caveat being that of the four applicants only two will achieve immortality, the other two have to die, one by suicide and the other by murder. The simple synopsis belies the deep complexity of the book as we get to know each of the young protagonists through alternating first person narrative. Silverberg wrote this book during 1970 when written science fiction was being shaken up by the "new wave" of authors who were experimenting with new writing techniques, structures and often controversial contents (epitomized by the legendary Dangerous Visions anthology edited by Harlan Ellison). The Book of Skulls is a fine example of the sort of sf being written at this time. The story takes some very dark and bizarre turns with several long passages of the main characters' stream of thought, epic length sentences and the odd explicit sex scenes which are in no way titillating.
The book is not overtly sci-fi but it is ambiguous enough to be considered sci-fi under certain assumptions, under different assumptions it could be viewed as a social satire or dark fantasy. Certainly it is character-centric thought experiment, a work of speculative fiction that can comfortably fit into our modern day's "weird fiction" subgenre. It was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards (but won neither).
The book is very well written as is the case with most of Silverberg's output, the prose style may be less lyrical than a lot of his other books because it is written in the voice of young college students. Interestingly Silverberg has given each of the four narrators their own individual "voice" which may not be so noticeable to begin with but become quite distinct later on in the book.
If you are looking for galaxy spanning sci-fi, post apocalyptic sci-fi, cyberpunk etc. this book is not for you, but if you are in the mood for something weird and disturbing that will leave you wondering the hell the author just hit you with this could be just the ticket....more
When (unnecessarily) reviewing a book as widely read as To Kill a Mockingbird it is interesting to consider why it is generally considered one of theWhen (unnecessarily) reviewing a book as widely read as To Kill a Mockingbird it is interesting to consider why it is generally considered one of the all-time greats. The prose style is pleasant enough but not extraordinary, the story is fairly simple and straightforward, the characters are quite lively and believable but some lesser-known novels also have those. What this book has in spades that all too few works of fiction is heart. At the risk of sounding “totally gay” I find this book wonderfully charming, heartwarming and compassionate.
The book is a mixture of the "Southern Gothic", and a coming of age "Bildungsroman" story of two kids Scout and Jem. The gothic part features a creepy neighbor who is possibly some kind of flesh eating mutant. This aspect of the story is intermingled with a charming story of day to day childhood in Maycomb, Alabama, then the story takes a dark turn as they gradually become aware of man's inhumanity to man. The weirdo next door become much less interesting under the circumstances.
We often talk about world building in genre books on Goodreads, escapism into alien worlds, fantasy lands and such, what Harper Lee has done here with the setting of Maycomb Alabama is even more remarkable. There is a vividness, a sense of place in this book, that immerses the reader into the story. The narrative is full of warmth, wit and wisdom, the book is brimming with wisdom and quotable lines like:
“There are just some kind of men who—who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
I love books that touches the emotional core, that make me feel something. Most novels I read are just for entertainment and if I get that I am a happy customer. However, this book puts me into a state of reverie after finishing it, by so doing it has transcended from being just another novel to read until the next one to something to cherished. It is a mystery and a shame that Harper Lee never wrote another novel, but the single book she has written is worth more than most authors’ entire bibliography....more