Joe Hill, definitely “a chip off the old block”, the old block being mega-author Stephen King of course. From what I have read Hill tried his best toJoe Hill, definitely “a chip off the old block”, the old block being mega-author Stephen King of course. From what I have read Hill tried his best to keep his relationship with Stephen King a secret and forge his own career as an author. Happily he became a successful author before the identity of his Dad was publicly disclosed by Variety magazine. Heart-Shaped Box is his first novel, as of now I think he has four to his name, excluding comics and anthologies.
Basically Heart-Shaped Box is a story of vengeful ghost, but there is a lot more to the story than that. The setup is quite original, the protagonist is a rock star who likes to collect weird macabre things, one day he buys a ghost off an eBay-like online shopping website. The ghost is bought in the form of an item that belongs to the dead man, in this case a suit that comes in a heart-shaped box; much grief ensues. It probably is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the suit is more important than the eponymous heart-shaped box, the box just becomes a creepy motif after it and similarly shaped boxes are mentioned a few times.
The less I elaborate about the plot the better I think, as the story takes many unexpected twists and turns and Hill’s conception of what a ghost can do is quite original and disturbing. I enjoy scary horror novels but most such novels are like hamburgers, easily consumed with some pleasure but not very memorable. For a horror novel to be memorable it has to transcend just being scary, it has to have characters worth caring about. This is why Stephen King’s best books are head and shoulders above the majority of horror fiction, he writes characters the reader cares about. I imagine Hill learned this lesson well from his father. His protagonist Jude is a flawed individual with a lot of issues but is a good man underneath all the rock star callousness. His girlfriend and secondary character is equally damaged in her own way (not to mention very potty mouthed) but when push comes to shove really rises to the occasion. I actually worry about these characters and that is the highest accolade I can give to a work of fiction. Even Jude’s dogs are endowed with personalities and heroic qualities. The author’s fondness for dogs is obvious and it is something I can really identify with. The sense of compassion in the book also makes it much more meaningful than the average horror novel.
Hill’s prose style in this book is straight forward and without frills or literary flourishes, what little humor that can be found within the book are mostly through the dialogue. The narrative moves at a breakneck pace and I gobbled then entire book up in just a few days, much more quickly than I normally read. Personally I am hoping to see more finesse in the prose style in his subsequent books but I have no doubt at all that I will be reading them; all of them. It is October 26 as I write and I can heartily recommend Heart-Shaped Box for your Halloween read. If you are reading this in February or whatever I’d still recommend it for a few hours of excellent and creepy escapism....more
“There is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker's perspective and whi
“There is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker's perspective and whispers terrible hints of obscure cosmic relationships and unnameable realities behind the protective illusions of common vision.”
That little passage explains why Lovecraft’s characters often go mad at the mere sight of blasphemous eldritch monstrosities from beyond; something I often wondered about. It is also a fine example of his penchant for convoluted sentence structures.
When I read At the Mountains of Madness I felt that Lovecraft is preferable in smaller doses, that is when his stories are not novel length. It seems that when he gives himself room with the novel format he overindulges his tendency to ramble, overwrite and include unnecessary details. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward reinforces this impression to me.
This is basically about an undead necromancer called Joseph Curwen who is foolishly resurrected by his descendent the eponymous Charles Dexter Ward through evocations, and other black magic shenanigans. Curwen of course wrecks all kinds of havoc because you don’t come back to life via black magic to do charity work.
One thing I noticed about reading Lovecraft is that the creepy atmosphere is more effective if you read the stories in a quiet room, unfortunately I read this book in a living room while family members are watching TV and it rendered the creep factor completely ineffective. I also find the depiction of Curwen’s early life fairly mundane and less than riveting. The usual Lovecraftian tropes are all accounted for, the awful smells, the creepy noises, the creaking, the screaming and what not. The “unmentionable” Necronomicon by Mad Paula Abdul Alhazred is of course mentioned. Poor Cthulhu does not get a look in though his cousin Yog-Sothoth is often referred to.
Lovecraft’s idiosyncratic prose style can be both entertaining and frustrating. As I mentioned before he is more readable in short story format. At novel length he often repeats himself with the description of funny smells, funny noises etc. The faux-archaic English passages are also hard to decipher. The climax of the story is unexpected though, it makes the whole thing almost worthwhile. I also particularly like this passage:
“It was a godless sound; one of those low-keyed, insidious outrages of Nature which are not meant to be. To call it a dull wail, a doom-dragged whine, or a hopeless howl of chorused anguish and stricken flesh without mind would be to miss its quintessential loathsomeness and soul-sickening overtones.”
He could have been reviewing a Justine Bieber album here.
It is almost a pity that the story of Frankenstein is so well known because far too many people neglect to bother reading Mary Shelley’s novel under tIt is almost a pity that the story of Frankenstein is so well known because far too many people neglect to bother reading Mary Shelley’s novel under the assumption that they already know the story. This is a shame because Frankenstein is beautifully written, very dark and scary but also quite poignant.
Most people have an image of Frankenstein’s Monster as a shambling massive thing with bolts on its neck, going around mumbling GAAHHH GAAAAAH!!! and snapping people’s necks because that is how he rolls. Some people even call the Monster “Frankenstein” which is really a faux pas as that is the name of Victor Frankenstein who created him (though if things had turned out differently and Victor had adopted The Monster as a family member then he would have been rightly called Mr. Frankenstein!).
What happen to Victor’s nearest and dearest is quite horrifying even though all the violence happen “off screen” in that the Monster’s murderous rampage is not described in the narrative, the reader are only shown the final result. Somehow this makes the story even more believable and creepy.
The way I see it the real monster of the story is Victor not The Monster. Imagine how things would have worked out if instead of making a run for it when the Monster wakes up he welcomes The Monster into the world and help him to fins a place in society. If he is really so ugly just buy him a mask and a hat or something. His reaction also seems to be illogical, while he was stitching the Monster together he must have noticed how fugly the poor thing looks, how is it that he only realizes it as the thing was waking up? How the Monster learns to speak, read and write entirely from observing some neighbors is also not quite believable, it reminds me of Tarzan figuring out how to read all by himself in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes; rather preposterous. That said Mary Shelly’s prose is so beautifully written I was quite willing to suspend disbelief.
Victor is an obsessed mad scientist who runs away from his responsibility and in spite of advance warnings still endangered his family and friends. The Monster is surprisingly eloquent in his speech and comes across as very pitiful and poorly treated by everyone he come across; by his “father” most of all. One point he often comes back to is that he never asked to be born and that if he can not get the love he yearns for he will take revenge as a substitute:
"Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed.”
“There is love in me the likes of which you've never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape. If I am not satisfied int he one, I will indulge the other.”
Poor bastard. There are myriad themes in this book but the most salient one for me is prejudice based on physical appearances. The Monster wants to be loved and accepted can only take so many rejections and abuse before he goes berserk. Victor gave him life but denies him everything else, he is the real villain of the piece.
Mary’s Shelly’s prose is lyrical to the point of being flowery at times. Besides being a morality tale Frankenstein is also a prototype science fiction book, it is amazing that it is written by the wife of a famous poet. It is a terrible shame that she did not write more novels of this kind. Children may find the language a little too flowery and the narrative does go to some very dark places. However, I would recommend this book to just about everybody else. Certainly I would like to read it again one day.
Note: This book was “listened to” in audiobook format, nicely and graciously read by Caden Vaughn Clegg for Librivox.org (free public domain audiobooks). Thank you sir! (Download link)...more
I have a bee in my bonnet that I would like to deal with first. I tend to feel annoyed (even though I shouldn’t) when people ask for sci-fi recommendaI have a bee in my bonnet that I would like to deal with first. I tend to feel annoyed (even though I shouldn’t) when people ask for sci-fi recommendations with the caveat that the book being recommended must not be more than 10 years old. The reason given for this clause is usually because the science is “wrong”, there is no internet, or history did not turn out the way the author depicted in the book. WUT? I would like to reiterate that it is not a sci-fi author’s job to predict the future, the whole point is to speculate. Anybody who want to get into reading sci-fi but steadfastly refuse to read the classics from the 50s, 60s etc. is really doing themselves a disfavor and missing out on some of the greatest sf stories and ideas ever written in the history of mankind.
Which brings us to Alfred’s Bester’s The Demolished Man, first published in 1953. Read this or his other classic The Stars My Destination and you will understand why I insist sci-fi readers should never neglect older science fiction. These are two terrific stories that stand the test of time.
In The Stars My Destination Bester posits a strange future society where everybody can teleport using the power of their mind. In The Demolished Man not everybody is a telepath but they are quite common place and can be found in all kinds of profession. Boy, did he get the future “wrong”! In lesser hands this conceit would never work but Alfred’s Bester was able to spin a great yarn from this fairly simple premise.
The Demolished Man is an “inverted detective story” in the reader is immediately told who the murderer is, but the difficulty for our hero is how to catch the devious bastard. The murderer Ben Reich is a “normal”, non-telepathic person but he is extremely smart and is able to foil even mind reading policemen. For example to avoid his mind being read by telepathic police he goes to a commercial jingle writer to play him a jingle that lodges in his brain after just one listening and bounces around it in an incessant looping playback. The hero policeman Lincoln Powell can barely keep up with him even with all the telepathic power (and manpower) under his disposal. The climax of the book is wonderfully surreal and reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven and PKD’s Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. A friend recently told me that I sometime inadvertently put spoilers in my reviews so I’d better not elaborate any more on this point.
Bester’s writing style reminds me of noir detective fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler, with the clipped dialogue and witty banter. The book is quite short so there is not a lot of room for character development but the protagonist and antagonist are quite complex and believable characters.
All in all a gripping, entertaining and very readable sci-fi classic that should please all sci-fi fans....more
I like to start a book knowing almost nothing about it. With Madame Bovary the only thing I knew was that it’s a French classic and often cited one ofI like to start a book knowing almost nothing about it. With Madame Bovary the only thing I knew was that it’s a French classic and often cited one of the all-time great novels. I knew absolutely nothing about the plot going in, though I expected it to be centered on the eponymous Madame Bovary, whoever she is. I imagined she is probably a French equivalent of Jane Eyre or Tess of the d'Urbervilles. I could not have been more wrong.
The protagonist Emma Bovary turns out to be a kind of anti-heroine and the novel is so downbeat it makes Tess of the d'Urbervilles look like Three Men in a Boat. Basically Emma Bovary is a girl who married a dull country doctor just so she could leave home but soon becomes a very desperate house wife. The story is about her infidelity and the consequences to herself and those around her. She seems to imagine herself as the protagonist of a soap opera; this is apparently from reading too much romantic fiction, Fifty Shades of Grey would have been right up her alley.
Her husband Charles Bovary is a hopeless cuckold, a decent fellow but in his way just as delusional as his wife. As far as I can tell he is the only sympathetic character in the novel (not including his young daughter Berthe who has very few speaking parts). Things do not turn out well for anybody except Monsieur Homais the pompous and egotistical chemist.
This is not an easy book to read (or listen to in my case) as there is not a single character to empathize with, even the nice Charles Bovary is too idiotic and delusional to generate much sympathy. Of course the author Gustave Flaubert was well aware of this, the reader is not supposed to like any of them. Their behavior and situation only serve to convey his disapproval of the French society of the time, particularly the bourgeoisie and romanticism.
The great attraction of reading fiction is to follow the characters’ thought processes which are often very alien to my own, to be somebody else for a while. I found Emma Bovary’s way of thinking very selfish and immoral but nonetheless quite fascinating. Unfortunately the other characters are not so interesting and when Emma is “off stage” the narrative becomes rather plodding.
The translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling is quite readable but I have no idea how good it is as I don’t read French. There are some nice lines like “a demand for money being, of all the winds that blow upon love, the coldest and most destructive” and I imagine the original French version would have been more of a pleasure to read, though I would not start taking French lessons just to read this book. The Count of Monte Cristo may be, but not this one.
If you like morality tales this book is for you, if you are looking for some kind of page turner this is not it. I listened to Madame Bovary on a free audiobook from Librivox, unfortunately this is not one of their better offerings. It is a multiple readers one, and some of the readers are just awful and incomprehensible. I had to supplement a few chapters in print (e-book) format to follow the narrative of a few chapters. If you get Amazon’s free Kindle e-book edition you can get the Audible audiobook with it for $2.99. I wish I had done that!...more
These last two books read more like a duology than the third and fourth installations of a series. The Cantos is often discussed in PrintSF, my sci-fi books discussions online community. The second half of the series tend to be quite polarizing. Some people love it, some say it is disappointing, one reader even calls it a bad fan fiction of the first two books. The Goodreads average rating for these last two books however, indicate that they are quite well liked by the majority. In my opinion they are well worth reading if you like Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, but they are not sf classics like these earlier books.
This is not one of those series that can be read out of sequence, in fact The Rise of Endymion continues directly from the previous volume Endymion. After narrowly escaping capture by the Pax church state and their secret partner the insidious and malevolent mega AI entity the TechnoCore, our heroes the messianic Aenea and Raul Endymion have settled down on “Old Earth” (just Earth to us) for a few years. That is until one day Aenea instructs Raul to go on an interminable mission to pick up their spaceship which they left on another planet in the previous book and bring it to her at a preprogrammed destination. After finally reuniting with great difficulty they travel to the planet where the Pax run Vatican is located and confront the Pax and the evil AI.
There are quite a few edge of the seat thrilling scenes in this book, especially those involving the killer super cyborgs (T-1000-like) Nemes, Scylla (and the other one). The equally formidable Shrike from all the previous books is also present to challenge these whippersnapper cyborgs. However, the book is not a thrill ride all the way as Raul’s solo adventure to reclaim their “Consul’s Ship” drags at time, though he did get to meet some wonderful characters and cultures on the way. The climax is suitably epic and mystical, and the events that follow wrap up the entire Cantos nicely. I did see the twist at the end from miles away though (if you have read this book I’d love to know if did the same).
Dan Simmons’ prose is always great to read, slipping into lyrical mode from time to time, with the odd (and very odd) poems. The characterization is the main strength of this book, the protagonists and antagonists are all very well drawn. The sci-fi aspect of it is not so mind boggling now as they were mostly featured in the previous books. Some of the new sci-fi elements border on fantasy, such as FTL travelling by foot, through a sort of hyperspace shortcut. Not to mention all the “chosen one” and messianic tropes. In fact Aenea reminds me a lot of Paul Muad'Dib from Dune. All of the mysteries from the previous books (including the origin and nature of the Shrike) are explained (to the displeasure of some fans who prefer them to be left unexplained). The book is also very romantic, optimistic and yet kind of tragic.
I am glad I have finished the entire series, but the first two books classic Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion remain two of my all time favorites which I would like to reread some day. I enjoyed Endymion and The Rise of Endymion but I am not likely to reread them....more
“On the barren shore, and on the lofty ice barrier in the background, myriads of grotesque penguins squawked and flapped their fins”.
Yep! We are in L
“On the barren shore, and on the lofty ice barrier in the background, myriads of grotesque penguins squawked and flapped their fins”.
Yep! We are in Lovecraft’s universe where even penguins are grotesque. I mean, whoever heard of an ugly penguin? At the Mountains of Madness is H.P. Lovecraft’s best known novel, not that difficult an accomplishment as he did not write that many (only this one and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward I believe. A wise decision because I find that his style is much more suited to the short story format. There are some amazing, creepy and wildly entertaining tales in the “greatest hits” anthology The Best of H.P. Lovecraft Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre that I reviewed rambled about in detail.
At the Mountains of Madness is basically about an expedition to an unexplored part of Antarctica. The intrepid explorers of course run into weird Lovecraftian things and the protagonist lives to tell the tale as a deterrent to other explorers. The main asset of this book is Lovecraft’s painstaking world building, free from the constraint of the short story format he takes his time describing the setup, the landscape and the increasingly strange discoveries. As a result the novel is steeped in creepy atmosphere you can really immerse into.
That said I really don’t think this should be anyone’s gateway into Lovecraft’s fiction. The descriptions can seem a little interminable and the pacing can be something of a slog for the impatient readers, especially if they are not familiar with Lovecraft’s idiosyncratic writing style. The readers who have enjoyed some Lovecraft stories, especially the “The Cthulhu Mythos” one will find much to enjoy here. The infamous Necronomicon by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred (as opposed his totally sane relatives I guess) is often referred to. The Elder Ones, the Shoggoths and some unnamed things even the monsters are sacred of are featured. As usual with Lovecraft there is no dialogue to speak of and characterization is nonexistent. There is also not a lot of action in this book, the climax is a little vague. All the creepy setup does not result in a spectacular payoff. If you just read it for the creep factor you should be well satisfied.
In spite of its popularity this is not my favorite of his works but personally I will always have time for more Lovecraft. (3.5 stars)...more
Peer pressure is a terrible thing, Cat’s Cradle is highly rated by people I respect, especially my GR friends, I went into it with much enthusiasm, haPeer pressure is a terrible thing, Cat’s Cradle is highly rated by people I respect, especially my GR friends, I went into it with much enthusiasm, half hoping for one of those “all-time greats” reads. However, life is full of surprises, and not in a good way on this occasion. It is easy to dismiss books like Twilight or 50 Shades in spite of their blockbusting best seller status because I don’t actually know anybody who like them! With a book like Cat’s Cradle it makes me doubt my own discernment.
The best I can do to stave off allegations that I am a philistine is that while I enjoyed some of it, on the whole I just don’t like it very much. The problem I have is that I did not find the plot and the characters engaging, I admire Vonnegut’s dry, sardonic wit but the story seems to ramble on and on until I got to the exciting climax. The micro chapters also play hell with the pacing of the book, there seems to me no momentum to the narrative that I could latch on to. The book has a “choppy” feel to it.
Another minor complaint I have is the amount of neologisms in this book, they are all explained but there are so many of them and I have such a poor memory that often had to Google them for quick explanations (though that is no trouble really).
As mentioned earlier I do like some of it, mainly the laughs I found here and there. I like the parts of the book that deal with “ice-nine”, the explanation of it and the apocalyptic result of its application is very entertaining. I enjoyed the wacky “Bokononism” philosophy. Maxims like “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” seem like words to live by to me! One character’s comment about reading is also wonderful:
“Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?” “In one of two ways,” he said, “petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”
At the end of the day though, the subtexts or profundities of this book escaped me as such things often do, but especially for books that I was not deeply engaged with. I do enjoy quoting bits of it though, this one seems appropriate:
“Man blinked. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely. "Everything must have a purpose?" asked God. "Certainly," said man. "Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God. And He went away.”
“Any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and—Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the
“Any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and—Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives.”
Ah! The original wibbly wobbly timey wimey novel (well, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court predates The Time Machine, and perhaps some other books as well, but never mind, you can put me right in the comments section if you want). Certainly it is the first one that I ever read as a wee lad. Last week I was looking for a short free audiobook for a bus journey and for some read on I thought of H.G. Wells and picked The Time Machine as it is my favorite.
The only problem I have with reading this book is that it is already “spoiled” long before I read the first paragraph. I remember all the major plot points very well, and what sci-fi fans have never heard of Elois and Morlocks? What I have no memory of is Wells’ prose style and his narrative talents. As the above quoted passage shows he was an eloquent writer with a rare ability to make scientific expositions sound elegant.
Wells was also an amazing story teller, the story may seem like old hat now but if you imagine that you have never heard of this story and never read anything like it before it is quite an astounding and riveting story. Consider the world building of his Dystopian far future with the two sub species of the human race. It is a beautiful piece of social satire and a thought provoking metaphor for social classes which are still prevalent today hundreds of years after the publication of this novel. There is not much in the way of characterization but that is perfectly fine for a book this short, besides the Elois are all hippy-ish airheads and the Morlocks are not interested in conversations. The protagonist does not even have a name.
The last couple of chapters may well be the most atmospheric. Wells’ depiction of an even further future beyond the Elois and Morlocks era is a little surreal and quite eerie. Those crab things seem like something out of H.P. Lovecraft. The conclusion of the novel is also nice and mysterious, mystical even. If you think H.G. Wells is old hat but never actually read any of his books I urge you to give him a try. Certainly I intend to reread The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man etc. before too long. Yes, they are all old hats but they are great hats! Classic headwears never go out of fashion.
Finally I would like to bookend this review with another favorite passage:
“You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions. Nor, having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence. So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist? Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?
This is by far my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel (well, neck and neck with her novella The Word for World is Forest). Her most popular science fiThis is by far my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel (well, neck and neck with her novella The Word for World is Forest). Her most popular science fiction books (thus excluding the classic Earthsea fantasy series) tend to be The Left hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed, both of these are excellent books but The Lathe of Heaven is the most mind blowing. It is as if she was channeling Philip K. Dick, and according to Wikipedia it is actually her tribute to the late great author.
The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr an insignificant little man who dreams big!. Whenever Orr has an “effective” dream, the dream becomes real (“effective” dream as opposed to normal dreams which he also has). Reality reshapes in accordance with his effective dreams and even changes retroactively to ensure consistency and avoid paradoxes. Orr gives a great example of this during a session with his dastardly psychiatrist William Haber: if he dreams “effectively” of a pink dog when he wakes up there will be a pink dog, but it would not surprise anybody as there will have always been pink dogs in the world, and one has wandered into the room. So it is not a case of a pink dog suddenly popping into existence.
When I read that I had to pause and imagine the implication and it really is one of the most intriguing sci-fi concepts ever. Unfortunately for George Orr and the rest of the world he is manipulated by Haber who turns out to be an egomaniac. With the aid of an “Augmentor” machine of his own invention he is able to indulge his God complex and alter reality the way he sees fit. From that point reality start warping and changing like taffy. It would be a crime for me to elaborate on the numerous changes wrought by Orr’s effective dreams, I really recommend that you find out for yourself.
Le Guin has one advantage over PKD in that she does write better prose, dialog and characterization. Personally I do not have any problems with PKD’s writing style but in term of literary merit I think Le Guin is in a different league. (PKD is the champion in the brilliantly wacky plots department I think). Here is an example:
“And since then Haber had at least been candid with Orr about his manipulations. Though candid was not the right word; Haber was much too complex a person for candor. Layer after layer might peel off the onion and yet nothing be revealed but more onion. That peeling off of one layer was the only real change”
Add her prose prowess to her massive imagination and her legendary status within the SF/F genres is not at all surprising. During the last few chapters Le Guin’s imagination goes into overdrive and I felt totally immersed in her dream like shifting reality. Her characters are always believable and suitably lovable or despicable as the plot requires. Beside Orr and Haber there is another central character called Heather Lelache who is both tough and sympathetic. There are some poignant scenes involving her that I find to be quite moving.
I could go on and on about this book and I will probably read it again one day (this is already a reread). It is one of the all-time greats and if you love science fiction it is not to be missed....more
Novels narrated from a dog’s point of view are rarities. I distinctly remember reading two, Fluke by the late great James Herbert, and Cujo by StephenNovels narrated from a dog’s point of view are rarities. I distinctly remember reading two, Fluke by the late great James Herbert, and Cujo by Stephen King (only partly from the dog’s POV). If the author’s talent is up to the task, it is quite a nice change in perspective (though I am sure you wouldn't want to read fiction from a canine perspective all the time unless you are a dog, even actual dogs don't want to do that, I have asked a few).
Set in the Yukon during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, The Call of the Wild is narrated in the third person but almost entirely from the dog’s point of view. The protagonist is Buck, a huge St. Bernard-Scotch Collie. (half St. Bernard and half sheepdog). At the beginning of the book he is living a happy life as a pet of a judge but is soon stolen by the judge’s gardener and sold to dog traders, one of whom beat the stuffing out of him to teach him his place in the world (as the trader sees it). After this traumatic and transformative experience he is soon sold off to Canadian mail dispatchers. The story of his life as a sled dog is quite harrowing, featuring a fight for supremacy among his teammates, being sold off again to inhumane ignoramus and almost starving to death. Buck goes through the wringer and survives admirably thanks to his tenacity, cunning, fortitude and general badassery. The title of the book The Call of the Wild only becomes a theme toward the end of the book, but I won’t spoil the book by elaborating on this.
The book is generally very well written though but there is very little dialog, as the dogs are not Disneyfied / anthromorphosised talking animals. The hardship and abuse endured by the sled dogs is quite harrowing. If you think you’ve got it bad try being a sled dog (though if you are reading this the contingency is an unlikely one). The author Jack London clearly has a lot of affinity for dogs and feels a moral outrage at the abusive treatment they often receive from human beings. He also has an insight into dogs’ mentality as this passage demonstrates:
“But the club of the man in the red sweater had beaten into him a more fundamental and primitive code. Civilized, he could have died for a moral consideration, say the defence of Judge Miller's riding-whip; but the completeness of his decivilization was now evidenced by his ability to flee from the defence of a moral consideration and so save his hide.”
“In short, the things he did were done because it was easier to do them than not to do them.”
Ah! I wish my dog was so eloquent! The process of “decivilization” of Buck is an fascinating one, in order to survive he has to turn feral and it later transpires that Buck has some kind of primordial instinct for turning wild. That said he also has an almost conflicting desire to be loved by a human master, and for doing the best job he can as a sled dog, and later as a bodyguard and companion. What he also has above all other characters in this book is an indomitable will to live, and eventually to be free.
If you love dogs this is a novel not to be missed. It is quite short, only about 170 pages, and there is an excellent free audiobook version from Librivox, very well read by Mark F. Smith (thank you sir!)....more
I have been meaning to read this book for a couple of years and only just got around to it, at this rate it will take several incarnations for me to fI have been meaning to read this book for a couple of years and only just got around to it, at this rate it will take several incarnations for me to finish my reading list. However, I am somewhat familiar with Lev Grossman’s writing, I have read many of his articles for Time magazine, and admired his witty writing style. However, the basic concept of the magicians did not look too enticing. A Hogwarts-ish college? It sounded a little derivative to me, even if Grossman adapted the style for a more mature readership. Still, it does seem to be quite popular among adult fantasy readers and as I said I like the author's style so here we finally are.
Having finished it I can tell you that The Magicians is much more than a pastiche of Harry Potter series, or C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia from which Grossman also borrowed heavily. The Magicians follows Quentin Coldwater a lonely high school graduate who stumbles upon “Brakebills”, a college of magic very similar to Hogwarts (and also the school for wizards in Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea which predates Harry Potter by decades). The major difference is The Magicians’ adult language, sexual situations and some graphic violence. This book is certainly not a spoof or a mere imitation of the legendary fantasy series I mentioned. Grossman combines the tropes of the Harry Potter and Narnia series very well, and even manages to turn most of these tropes on their heads. The mechanics and philosophy of magic is quite cleverly imagined here.
The entire book is a breeze to read from beginning to end thanks to Levman’s excellent prose style which is often witty and touches upon literary at times. I have a couple of reservations however, the first half of the book feels too derivative of Harry Potter and Narnia. The concepts are no longer fresh even though they are cleverly utilized. My other reservation is with the protagonist Quentin Coldwater who I find rather unsympathetic. An unsympathetic antihero is fine but Quentin is not an antihero, he is a hero who makes mistakes that many teenagers and young adults do. However, I find him to be selfish, self indulgent and a general pain in the ass. Even by the end of the book when he realized his errors I still do not find that he has redeemed himself. I think Grossman’s idea is to present a young man whose youthful impulses cause a lot of grief for himself and others. Unfortunately I do not think Grossman endowed him with enough redeemable qualities for me to sympathize with his plight.
On the plus side the second half of the book is quite a tremendous read as the main characters graduate from college and the Narnia-like element takeover from the wizardry training at Brakebills which was beginning to pall for me. I do not want to say too much about the second part and the thrilling climax of the book because there are some great surprises in store for you if you read it.
I am not entirely sure I will read the subsequent volumes of this Magicians series, I am sure that if I do I will enjoy the books because of the author’s prose style, imagination and story telling skill. However, I do not care enough about the characters to follow their adventures and there are several other series I am more invested in.
I can easily recommend The Magicians as an enjoyable read with the caveats that I mentioned, they are by no means deal breakers. Certainly if you are into the “school of magic” type of fantasy this book should do nicely....more
“Love isn't just wanting another person the way you want to own an object you see in a store. That's just desire. You want to have it around, take it
“Love isn't just wanting another person the way you want to own an object you see in a store. That's just desire. You want to have it around, take it home and set it up somewhere in the apartment like a lamp. Love is"--she paused, reflecting--"like a father saving his children from a burning house, getting them out and dying himself. When you love you cease to live for yourself; you live for another person.”
What? This in a Philip K. Dick novel?
This is an unusual PKD book, though you could argue that all PKD books are unusual so there is nothing unusual about one of his books being unusual. What I mean is that the tone and style are different from the earlier PKD classics like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Ubik. First published in 1974 after the aforementioned classic PKD novels, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said seems to be written during a transitional period in Dick’s style. Profanities are common place in the dialogs, something not present in Dick’s works from the 60s (I believe), and there is more depth to the characters, more compassion and more emotional resonance.
This story is set in a dystopian 1988 USA (a “near future” at the time of writing) where the people live under a police state, anybody found at spot checks without proper documentation are liable to be summarily shipped off sent to labour camps (students especially). The novel’s protagonist is Jason Taverner, a famous singer who has his own nightly TV show with viewership in the millions. One day he wakes up in a rundown hotel and finds that nobody knows who he is, not even his closest friends and lover. The how and why of his predicament is one of Dick’s best story ideas, but the less I elaborate on that the better.
This is one of my favorite PKD books, I would rate it alongside the aforementioned Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as the best of his works; certainly I would rate it far above his Hugo winner The Man in the High Castle of which I am not a fan. The standout feature of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is that it is more emotional than most of his fiction. There is a sadness and sympathy to it that I do not associate with his works. That said PKD fans will be right at home with the usual Dickian trope of drug induced reality warping.
Dick’s prose is the usual utilitarian style he uses in most of his works, the dialog is often stilted as if the characters are all drug addled to some extent. If this sounds like a criticism it really is not. I like the way Dick writes, it is clear and effective for conveying the weirdness inherent in his stories. As for the dialog his characters tend to say the oddest things out of the blue, like Jason Taverner suddenly tells a woman she looks too old for her age for no apparent reason and getting whacked on the head as a result. Dick’s sense of humour is also wonderfully weird, such as the title of Taverner’s latest hit being “Nowhere Nuthin' Fuck-up”, which he describes as a sentimental number. His depiction of 1988 of course bears little resemblance to that year in reality with personal flying vehicles and vinyl records still very much in use. I hope this does not dissuade anybody from reading it however, I believe that it is not sci-fi writers’ job to predict the future but to speculate and provide some food for thought.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is one of Dick’s most underrated books. As usual he makes us question the reality we live in but this time he also makes us think about how we perceive ourselves and others and how our perception affects our social interactions and relationships. An unexpectedly moving book....more
Cory Doctorow is one of the high profile current crop of sci-fi authors, he is also famous for his blogs on Boing Boing, and his stance on liberalisinCory Doctorow is one of the high profile current crop of sci-fi authors, he is also famous for his blogs on Boing Boing, and his stance on liberalising copyright laws (he even got into a trouble with the legendary Ursula K. Le Guin for posting an article she wrote on his web site.
The first book I read of Doctorow’s was Little Brother I enjoyed it very much though I felt that the prose and dialog could be a little better. Three years later I just got around to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, his first novel, and still one of his most popular (after Little Brother). When somebody at PrintSF (sf reading community) asks about where to start with Doctorow’s books this book always comes up.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is set in a post-scarcity economy where hunger, poverty and even death have been made obsolete. The absence of hunger hand poverty is not elaborated on very much but there is a mention “Makers” which seem to be the kind of nanotechnology “make anything” machines featured in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age and Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky. With all material wants satisfied money is no longer in use, however, there is still a currency of sorts called “Whuffies”. If I understand correctly whuffies are similar to “Likes” on Facebook or “Upvotes” on Reddit. The important difference is that whuffies are actually worth something, nice seats at restaurant, nicer houses and other privileges. The story of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom concerns the protagonist / narrator Julius’ struggle to hold on to his management position at Liberty Square in Disney World (the Magic Kingdom).
I like the 22nd century world that Doctorow depicts in this book, definitely one of the more optimistic visions of the future. The abolition of death through “backups” is always an interesting trope for speculation of how we would view our lives given that immortality is a thing. Personally I am of the opinion that after you are dead the version of you restored from a backup and put in a cloned body is not really you. Whatever your take on this idea may be it is regrettable that the issue is not explored in this book. Having built such an interesting post-singularity world it is a pity that Doctorow decides to focus the entire book on Walt Disney World, I am sure it is a very nice resort (never been there) but I want to know more about the world outside of it.
Doctorow employs a few neologisms in this book and he does not directly explain any of them. This is a fine tradition in sf writing where the meaning of the made up words gradually unfold through the context of the book. However, for the meanings to be inferred the author has to give clearer hints than what Doctorow has done here. For example after seeing the word “whuffie” a couple of times I assumed it is similar to Facebook’s “Like” but I did not know it has replaced currency. My failure or the author’s? You be the judge. Also words like “Bitchun Society” just sounds too juvenile to be used in any official capacity.
I have a feeling that with this first novel Doctorow tried too hard to be hip, hipster prose is really not very appealing to me. The protagonist and narrator Julius is too self indulgent to be sympathetic, as are all the other characters. The prose style is accessible and the dialogue is tolerable but I think Doctorow’s writing skills have improved substantially by the time he wrote Little Brother.
I can recommend this book with the above mentioned reservations. The world and the technology is quite interesting, the book is easy to read and quite short (around 200 pages). More importantly Cory Doctorow has made this book available as a free e-book which you can download at Project Gutenberg (link) and other sites....more
Robert Silverberg is a legend, one of the all-time greats, and among these all-time greats he is probably the most underrated. He has Hugo and NebulaRobert Silverberg is a legend, one of the all-time greats, and among these all-time greats he is probably the most underrated. He has Hugo and Nebula Awards up the wazoo but is relatively unknown compared to the giants of the genre like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, IMHO he belongs up there with them in term of accolades.
A Time of Changes is one of his best novels if his Goodreads page is anything to go by. However, if you have never read anything by Silverberg before you may want to start with something more immediately accessible like Lord Valentine s Castle or Dying Inside. That said A Time of Changes is indeed an extremely good and unusual book. If you are in the mood for a thought provoking (but not action packed) book by all means dive straight into this one.
The novel gets off to a slow start and never really shifts into high gear. However, once you immerse into the story, characters and settings the fascination sets in, and the slow pace becomes a kind of virtue.
“this planet was settled by men who had strong religious beliefs, who specifically came here to preserve them, and who took great pains to instill them in their descendants.”
In a nutshell the story is set on a human colony planet called Velada Borthan where intimacy is taboo and self denial is the norm. Their society operates under a Covenant that prohibits opening up one’s feelings except to a designated bondbrother and bondsister. The usage of first person pronouns “I” and “me” is considered obscene. The title of the book refers to the protagonist Kinnall Darival’s discovery of a drug that forms a temporary telepathic link between the drinkers. After his first experience with the drug it becomes clear that the Covenant is preventing people from intimacy, and thereby from understanding and loving each other.
It is actually fairly difficult to synopsize this book briefly and interestingly but it really is a wonderful thought experiment that explores human relationship, religiosity and empathy. A culture where people build walls around themselves to keep everybody at a distance and human interactions are always impersonal has far reaching implications. In some way it is an allegory for impersonal, taciturn human relationships we often encounter in real life.
I hesitate to call A Time of Changes a “difficult book” as the narrative style is straight forward, and even the timeline is almost completely linear (except for the frame story at the beginning and the end) with only one plot stand and point of view. The possible difficulty lies in the unusual theme and slow, contemplative pacing. As usual Robert Silverberg writes beautiful literary prose without lapsing into excessively lyrical passages. There is even some mild humour in the “polite circumlocution” dialogue which is the norm for this planet. For example:
”I should not have said, “One would have a room,” but rather, “Is there a room to be had? ” At a restaurant it is wrong to say, “One will dine on thus and thus,” but rather, “These are the dishes that have been chosen.” And so on and so on, twisting everything into a cumbersome passive form to avoid the sin of acknowledging one’s own existence.”
In writing this review I find that while I love the book I can not sell it very well because it is not a “fun read” as such, unless you enjoy pondering thought experiments. If you read this book and dismiss it as “boring” you may want to pause to examine what you want from a novel. If it is purely entertainment then this may not be the book for you. If you enjoy imagining how our society may operating under very different sets of rules A Time of Changes is endlessly fascinating. The Nebula Award (1971) for Best Novel is well deserved....more
This is the second volume of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. I enjoyed the first book Old Man's War very much, I even rated it 5 stars on my GoodrThis is the second volume of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. I enjoyed the first book Old Man's War very much, I even rated it 5 stars on my Goodreads review (adjusted to 4 later). However, I read it in June 2011 and I have just read this second volume three years later. The reason is that since reading that first volume I have read so many books that I like much better and a 5 stars rating seems inaccurate. In all fairness I do not think there is much wrong with Old Man's War apart from some of the jokes falling flat for me. Scalzi has a good sense of humour and he even makes a good living out of his more humorous sci-fi but in Old Man's War, and to a lesser extent this book The Ghost Brigades, some of the jokes just sort of short circuit for me. It seems like he tries too hard with the humour sometimes.
That reservation aside though, the Old Man's War series has a great concept and is generally well executed. Every successful sf author seems to have a popular series to call their own. So I guess this series is John Scalzi’s Foundation, Revelation Space, or The Night's Dawn Trilogy (I left out Dune and Hyperion as the first volume seems to be more popular as a standalone). In fact, today I just heard that Syfy is developing Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades into a TV series (to be called “The Ghost Brigades” apparently).
Discussing John Scalzi’s books can be a little contentious as he has many admirers as well as detractors. His very high profile and incessant self-promotion can be very off-putting, and also his body of work tend to be highly commercial. For examples Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts are two bestselling books but I have no intention of reading as one is a “reboot” of Little Fuzzy and personally I do not want books to be rebooted like movies and TV shows, and the other has a concept which does not appeal to me (Star Trek parody). In all fairness both books are probably very good but I just do not fancy reading them. On the positive side Scalzi’s style is very accessible and Old Man's War is a book you can generally recommend to anyone who want to start reading sci-fi; unless they are looking for literary or profound sci-fi, which are rather rarities in any case. He once described his works as “gateway drug” into sci-fi literature and that seems fair.
The Ghost Brigades takes place sometime after the events of Old Man's War, I am not sure how much time has elapsed as this book features almost all new characters, except Jane Sagan. One thing I really like about this book is how Scalzi confounds my expectations by introducing the main protagonist Jared Dirac more than 60 pages into the book, and how his story arc develops in unexpected directions. In this volume Scalzi expands the world building of Old Man's War and delves into the life of the enigmatic Special Forces (nicknamed The Ghost Brigades). These are soldiers who were never naturally born but are bred in artificial bodies and implanted with consciousness and a built-in computer called “BrainPal” (not one of sci-fi’s best neologisms I don’t think). Unfortunately for our hero Jared Dirac he is implanted with a nefarious man’s consciousness pattern instead of a brand new consciousness like his colleagues, with the mission of tracking down this man and putting a stop to his plan to work with hostile aliens to destroy mankind.
Scalzi has considerable story telling skills and he seems to make an effort to ensure that the readers understand the scifi elements of his story. His prose style is mainly utilitarian but nice and clean. The characters are not particularly complex but they tend to be sympathetic and likable. The humour is hit and miss for me but they are not really an issue in this book, at least he is not trying to elicit laughter every few paragraphs (the awful Sherlock Holmes joke notwithstanding). On the other hand his depiction of human compassion is really quite effective (the feels!). I find The Ghost Brigades to be better written than Old Man's War but it is a little inferior in that the main concept is no longer new and much of the lengthy Special Forces training section is too similar to the regular soldiers training in the previous book. The sci-fi tech like the Skip Drive is very well explained in pseudo-science terms, and the diversity of sentient alien races is a feast of imagination.
TL;DR: I had a good time reading this book and will probably come back to the series before too long....more
Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion are two books fans of science fiction literature should not miss. They are exciting, mind blowing, beautiful, lyricaHyperion and The Fall of Hyperion are two books fans of science fiction literature should not miss. They are exciting, mind blowing, beautiful, lyrical and thought provoking. The first volume Hyperion is often ranked as one of the top ten greatest sci-fi books ever. That said, I read The Fall of Hyperion in November 2012 and only got around to reading Endymion almost two years later. I am too easily influenced by reviews or readers’ comments, and while Endymion tend to be more positively reviewed than negative it is clearly much less popular than the first two books of the Hyperion Cantos. I remember someone said that Endymion is like a bad fanfic of Hyperion (it is not) and that was very off-putting. Still, I never did remove it from my TBR and eventually I am in the mood for it and here we are. (I know, “who cares?” right? But I have to start the review somehow, and rambling is usually my launch pad of choice).
Endymion is set more than 200 years after the event of The Fall of Hyperion. By then the Cantos, written by the foulmouthed poet Martin Silenus, has already become the stuff of legend, and an infamous banned book. The book begins with a frame story of the semi-eponymous Raul Endymion writing from some kind of high tech solitary satellite prison. While he is awaiting his imminent demise by cyanide poisoning he is spending his last days regaling us lucky readers with the story of his adventures with a girl called Aenea who will one day become a messiah of some kind. Aenea is the daughter of the wonderful Brawne Lamia, the female detective from the first two volumes of the series and the John Keats “cybrid” (artificial human). The book basically concerns Aenea’s journey with Endymion and an android named A.Bettik via a series of farcasters (teleportation portals). There is also a parallel plot strand of a group of military agents hunting them down. Much adventure ensues.
Unlike the first two volumes of the Cantos this book is fairly straight forward in structure and narrative style. It is basically a chase from beginning to end. I can understand why some people find it disappointing after having read the previous two books (the classic Hyperion especially). The tone is very different, less poetic and lyrical, the profundity is not there. One of the most remarkable things about the first Hyperion book is that Dan Simmons did a kind of virtuoso performance by writing in several different styles of sci-fi subgenres and other genres, including space opera, hard sf, soft sf, military sf, cyberpunk, hard boiled crime fiction, and even literary fiction. The different narrative styles also combine beautifully into an excellent and cohesive story. Endymion is not so ambitious, the prose style in this book is much more utilitarian, apart from the odd snippets of poetry here and there; it is of course very well written, one thing you can count on from Simmons. Personally I am fine with Endymion’s less literary style, as it means the author is not repeating himself.
The world building and sci-fi tech of Endymion is as great as the previous books. My personal favorite is the “archangel ships” which have faster than light capability but at a slight drawback of violently killing all the occupants of the ship who are later automatically resurrected in crèches with the aid of the Cruciform parasite (from the first Hyperion novel) in tandem with some mysterious technology. Unfortunately for the humans farcasters are all disabled by the TechnoCore (a sort of AI overlords) so if you want FTL travel you would have to accept being flattened and squished into paste then resurrected later (and also have a horrid parasite permanently attached to your chest).
Characterization is quite strong, again an expectation I have of Simmons’ books; though the characters here are not as colorful as those the from the previous Hyperion volumes. All the central characters here are believable and sympathetic and the dialogue rings true, with the occasional bits of humour. My favorite character being “A. Bettik”, an android who is humble, loyal, brave, and unfailingly polite of course. Even though an android is not a robot A. Bettik reminds me of Asimov's R. Daneel Olivaw from The Naked Sun and several other of his classic robot novels.
The plot and pacing is very good on the whole, though the chapters from the military agent Captain de Soya’s point of view tend to drag a little. The thrilling climax toward the end of the book is monumentally kickass though; edge of the seat stuff featuring The Shrike who is as “sharp” as ever and an adversary who is worthy of going toe to toe with him.
The most difficult thing about reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky is pronouncing his name I think. The first Dostoyevsky book I read was Crime and Punishment,The most difficult thing about reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky is pronouncing his name I think. The first Dostoyevsky book I read was Crime and Punishment, I liked it well enough even though it was dark and sad and generally something of a downer. The Brothers Karamazov is also dark and sad yet there is an element of optimism in it. If you are attempting Dostoyevsky for the first time Crime and Punishment is probably the easier option, being less dense, complex and simply shorter. Actually having read these two books I believe Dostoyevsky (translated) is not that hard to read, he was not one of those experimental postmodern authors that will have you scratching your head trying to decipher his prose and narrative structure. That said The Brothers Karamazov is a profound and psychologically complex novel, there are at least a couple of chapters which entirely consist of philosophical or even mystical digressions.
At the most basic level The Brothers Karamazov is exactly what it says on tin, that is a story of brothers of the Karamazov family. Three of them (and possibly a bonus one). Dmitri, the wild one who seems to specialize in digging his own grave, Ivan the overthinking intellectual, and Alyosha, the pious one. None of them were raised by their father Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, who is clearly one of the all-time worst dads in fiction. The novel explores how such a shabby, unloving upbringing shape the three brothers in different ways.
The narrative gradually transforms from a story of the development of the three brothers into a murder mystery followed by a courtroom drama. However, the intent is not to thrill but to explore the psychology of the main characters and the consequence of their actions. If this sounds like a drag I can assure you that it is not, most of the book is quite gripping and thought provoking. That said if you are looking for a thriller you would have to look elsewhere.
The three brothers and practically all the characters in this book are very vividly drawn by Dostoyevsky. I believe the most remarkable achievement is the characterization of Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov (A.K.A. Alyosha) who is the heart and soul of the book. “Nice” characters are very hard to write, especially as a protagonist, they tend to be less colorful than other characters and often downright bland. For example Harry Potter is hardly the most compelling character in the series named after him, his teachers, friends and enemies are much more interesting and fun to read about. Dostoyevsky has somehow managed to make Alyosha a complex, interesting and compelling in spite of not having a single mean bone in his body.
The other two brothers are no less compelling. Dimitri’s actions and eventual fate is a great illustration of what tend to happen when the head rules the heart, his wild “love crazed fool” behavior is often embarrassing undignified, and he ends up being something of a train wreck. Ivan is intellectual to the point of pretentiousness, this also works out badly for him. Alyosha, on the other hand, has an uncanny ability to shame the very worst people with his incorruptible goodness and extract goodness from them. There is also the dastardly yet pitiful Smerdyakov who is probably an uncredited Karamazov, he reminds me of Dickens’ Uriah Heep (from [book; David Copperfield]).
The novel extols the value of honor, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption, but above all love and understanding. I am certainly sold on these themes, by the time I finished The Brothers Karamazov I wanted to hug everybody.
As usual for me with the classics, I “read” it on audiobook over several weeks (a couple of months with this one). Also as usual, I am a total skinflint and opted for the free Librivox version. This is book is read by quite a few volunteers, some are better than others but at least all of their reading is understandable. I you do not want to pay $20+ for an Audible.com professional reading this is the way to go (there are of course other, rather nefarious ways to obtain audiobooks but I won’t mention those!)....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
A Scanner Darkly is one of his early 70s books and I find it more grounded than his earlier books, less insane and a little less fun to read. It is also semi-autobiographical and more melancholy than his other books that I have read. Set in the “near future” of 1992 (it was the future at the time) in a grubby, dystopian California where the general standard of living appears to be very poor and drug addicts possibly outnumber the non-addicts. The novel is mostly centered on Bob Arctor, an undercover narcotics officer who lives among three addicts in a rented house and has a girlfriend who is a small time pusher. Bob’s cover is of course as another addict and his mission is basically to glean enough info form his junkie friends and his girlfriend to locate and arrest the producers of a powerful and popular drug called “Substance D”.
The trouble is Bob is too deep under cover and has become an addict himself, consuming copious amount of this drug which messes up his head to the extent that he begins to have an identity crisis and lose his capacity for clear thoughts. As a police agent Bob goes under the name Fred and always wear a “Scramble Suit” which prevent people from remembering his appearance so his true identity is known only to himself.
This novel reads more like a thriller or drama about drug abuse than science fiction. The sci-fi elements like the scrambled suit and holographic photos seem to have been shoehorn in to make the novel legitimately sci-fi, because for some reason Dick did not want the book published as a “mainstream” book, possibly because sci-fi is his comfort zone or to avoid alienating his regular readers (just my conjecture).
Fans of PKD’s weird goings on will find enough to please themselves here I think. There are even some hilarious moments in the book such as the bizarre story of a motorized man-shaped block of hash told by one of the junkies.
Dick is often criticized for writing inelegant prose, I never notice this myself as I have always liked his uncluttered prose, the right tool for the right job of telling his bizarre stories. Flowery or lyrical narrative style seems to be very unsuitable for his material. That said A Scanner Darkly seems to be more well written than his books form the 60s; on the other hand there is much more swearing in this book than I can remember from his earlier books. There is also a little bit of romance, considerable compassion, kindness and sadness. Elements I do not usually associate with PKD’s works. The saddest part of the book is actually the author’s Afterward at the end of the book.
I would recommend reading this novel then watch the 2006 faithful movie adaptation for maximum appreciation. Not my favorite PKD as there are dull patches here and there but over all a very worthwhile read and one of his more “important” novels.
It is a good movie with a unique look and good performances by the actors. However, I wish the filmmaker Richard Linklater has shot the movie conventionally instead of employing the "interpolated rotoscope" technology to make the movie look like animation. On the plus side the movie does look suitably surreal, like junkie's drug addled perspective. Unfortunately the animated look puts an additional layer between the actors and the audience and causes an emotional disconnection. ...more
Kazuo Ishiguro, there seems to be a dichotomy between the author's name and the subject matter of the novel. I did not know anything about Mr. IshigurKazuo Ishiguro, there seems to be a dichotomy between the author's name and the subject matter of the novel. I did not know anything about Mr. Ishiguro before reading this book (I am not as well read as I pretend to be) but I have heard of the 1993 award winning film adaptation of The Remains of the Day starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. It seems like a quintessentially British story and when I looked up some info about the source material I was intrigued by the author’s name. Anyway Wikipedia cleared all that up, Ishiguro has been living in the UK since the age of five and received his degrees from British universities. According to The Times he is one of the greatest British writers since 1945.
Moving on from the author's name, The Remains of the Day is a fascinating look at the life of a butler “Mr. Stevens”. The novel starts with the framing “present day” narrative of Stevens working as the butler for an American gentleman Mr. Farraday, his embarking on a road trip holiday by himself and episodic flashbacks to his years of loyal service to Lord Darlington, with emphasis on his working relationship with the housekeeper Miss Kenton.
I find this to be a very thought provoking novel it really taught me a few things about the almost extinct profession of butlering. Not how to make a decent cucumber sandwich or anything like that, but the philosophy of butlery. I have always wondered why any intelligent person would want to be a manservant of any kind. Serving meals and drinks to a single household, or worse still, a single individual does not seem like a dream job. Well, according to Mr. Stevens when a butler is serving a great man who does great things for the country you are facilitating that greatness. So vicariously he is also doing great deeds. Whether this is a fact or one man’s misconception is debatable, but it a plausible motivation. Another fascinating thing about the traditional Jeevsian butlers is their eloquence, mannered speech and unflappability. Very few people speak like Jeeves or Mr. Stevens these days, more is the pity. Their convoluted yet precise speech is music to my ears, and the way they seem to almost teleport by moving about extremely quietly is just wonderful.
Mr. Steven’s aspiration to be a great butler means that he has to suppress his emotions at all time, practically turning himself into a super efficient robot. Maintaining a stiff upper lip at all times can lead to an entirely stiff body and soul; being the best at something always comes at a price.
During the first half of the book I did wonder what the point of the novel is as it seems to amble along amiably from page to page never actually boring but the point of the story escaped me. However, around the half way point I found myself smiling as I was reading a certain scene and realized that the story and the characters have charmed me. By the end of the book I understood the central themes of ambitions and regret and I was moved. My the audiobook edition is beautifully read by the late great Nigel Hawthorne whose diction of the classic English butler dialogue is just the thing for Anglophiles.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s sci-fi-ish novel Never Let Me Go seems very much my kind of thing, we will see how that goes. As for The Remains of the Day, may I be so bold as to respectfully suggest that sirs and madams set aside your undoubtedly valuable time and suspend all telephonic communications to read this particular publication forthwith?...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.
"Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything
"Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them." Mr. Gradgrind, Hard Times
"We don't need no education We dont need no thought control" Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) - Roger Waters, Pink Floyd
Roger Waters' lyrics could almost be a direct response to Mr. Gradgrind's ridiculous world view.
The worst thing about Hard Times is the title, very off putting. You get the feeling that the book will indeed give you a hard time and should be avoided like the plague; particularly if you have never read Dickens before and assume that his books are hard to read. As it turned out Hard Times is one of the easiest Dickens books to follow, neither the plot or the prose is particularly convoluted. It is also one of his shortest and most concise, clocking in at a measly 350 or so pages instead of 1000+ like most of his novels.
The major theme, as far as I can discern, is the effect of stifling upbringing and overly rigid fact-based education at the expense of allowing children to cultivate their imagination. Facts and figures are essential for development of the intellect but they need to be balanced with fanciful stories and leisurely pastime. The novel’s protagonist Louisa was raised and homeschooled by her father to only be concerned with “facts facts facts!” and tales of fantasy, circuses etc, are boycotted. This has the effect of turning an innately decent loving girl into a living refrigerator. The effect on her brother is even worse, as he grows up to be a dissipated, deceitful and generally useless individual.
This being a Dickens novel the plight of the poor and the injustice society inflicts on them is depicted with a fierce passion. Both “the masters” (factory owners) and trade unionists are portrayed in very poor light. To balance the unsavory characters Dickens also introduces us to his stock “nice”, simple and honest characters and several eccentric ones. Also, even with the serious issues Dickens wants to bring to your attention in this book, he never forgets his story telling duties, Hard Times is well paced, sometime funny, sometime sad, and never drags.
The reason I enjoy reading about Dickens’ characters is the reason his detractors criticize him for. His supporting characters tend to be colorful in appearance, behavior and speech. However, they are also frequently cartoonish and unbelievable as real people. This is perfectly acceptable to me because I don’t think Dickens’ intention is to write ultra-real gritty fiction. The crazy characters are there to entertain and also function as caricatures of certain types of people for metaphorical purposes. For example Josiah Bounderby one of the antagonists seems like some kind of angry red balloon, all bluster and extreme arrogance. His housekeeper Mrs. Sparsit is super aristocratic and a real nasty piece of work. James Harthouse, a total cad with seduction of Louisa in mind. His slick patter is very amusing and brings to mind one of Oscar Wilde’s more outrageous “motormouth” characters.
Dickens also gets a lot of flak for his melodramatic sentimental plots and “deus ex machina”. All true but without writing a tedious defence of the great man I would simply say that I am OK with it all. I always find his fiction to be accessible, entertaining and poignant. His prose is also a work of art, sometime sardonic sometime lyrical. Again the haters find him verbose, and again I enjoy his verbosity.
My audiobook version is superbly performed by actor Martin Jarvis, definitely not just a narration, but an actual dramatic vocal performance with tons of different voices and accents.
In conclusion this alleged review seems more like an exercise in Dickens fanboying (now that's something you don't see everyday!) than a proper review. Ah well, it’s the best I can do at this time of night.
Last words go to Mr. Sleary, circus manager extraordinaire (who speaks with a lisp)
"People mutht be amuthed. They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they an’t made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!"
A couple of days before I started to read this book I have just read and reviewed E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops an excellent science fiction shortA couple of days before I started to read this book I have just read and reviewed E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops an excellent science fiction short story first published in 1909 which is very well written, clever and prescient. Forster is of course not known for his sci-fi as he wrote only the one story (as far as I know). However, he is known for several classic novels including A Passage to India, Howards End and Where Angels Fear to Tread. All of which have been adapted into films. A Room with a View is his most widely read and popular work. I decided to read it after reading The Machine Stops.
Room is superficially a romance and a comedy of manners, but it is also a social satire a character study and an exploration of the human mind. The protagonist Lucy who has been living a sheltered life meets a seemingly plebeian English father and son while on holiday in Florence with her snooty cousin Charlotte. Initially she shares her cousin’s disdain for those of the lower classes until repeated encounters show her that there is more to these people than meets the eye.
A Room with a View is a pleasant, amusing and thought provoking book. I particularly like the theme of self-denial, people (myself included) often do not admit even to themselves when they like something they imagine will lower their peers’ opinions of them, basically nobody likes to look uncool! Sometime this is justifiable but as this novel shows it can leads to life changing error of judgment. A couple of quotes from this book that deal with thus particular theme:
“Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them”
“Passion should believe itself irresistible. It should forget civility and consideration and all the other curses of a refined nature. Above all, it should never ask for leave where there is a right of way.”
(I always pad up my reviews with quotes when I can’t think what to write!).
The romcom theme of “The course of true love never did run smooth” is prevalent for people who like that sort of thing. For me it is a less interesting aspect of the book due to its commonplaceness. I do tend to get a little frustrated with the heroines of romcoms when they acting out their self-denial. There is also a satire of people who like to act the martyr for the purpose of emotional blackmail which had me chuckling.
The characters are all believable and the central characters are quite complex, probably too complex for their own good. The prose and dialogue, as I expect from [author E.M. Forster], is beautifully written. This is one of his lighter novels and there are amusing scenes and dialogues scattered throughput the book. As I read this in audiobook format it is more difficult to make notes and highlight favorite lines.
Speaking of which, the audiobook is superbly read by Elizabeth Klett who is an American lady but reads all the dialog in a convincing English accent; the narrative parts are read in her natural accent, which makes for an interesting contrast and serves to highlight her skills. (Audiobook download link)
I prefer novels where the stakes are higher than a couple’s relationship so a 4.5 stars rating seem appropriate as a gauge of my appreciation (rounded up to 5 because GR doesn’t allow halves!). Any way, lovely book, time well spent!...more
“You talk as if a god had made the Machine," cried the other. "I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. G
“You talk as if a god had made the Machine," cried the other. "I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but not everything.”
E.M. Forster could have been talking about Steve Jobs and iPhones!
I don't know how widely read The Machine Stops is but I think it ought to be required reading for all sci-fi aficionados. I don't know this for a fact but I suspect it is very influential; I can see echoes of it in sci-fi classics such as Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, the classic short story “Nightfall” and even in something as recent as Hugh Howey’s Wool. Perhaps even Iain Banks’ Culture series to some extent.
This is a proto-dystopian sci-fi story first published in 1909. Here we have the human race all living underground to avoid exposure to a polluted poisonous Earth atmosphere (though things may not be as they seem). Mankind is totally ruled and nurtured by a global AI Overlord simply called The Machine. Everybody’s material needs and creature comforts can be conjured as needed (presumably backsides are also wiped).
So what happens when the entire human race are totally reliant on a single supercomputer* to the extent that their muscles have atrophied and decadence has set it? I'm not going to tell you obviously but this is a brilliant prescient story that I hope you will read.
Pity E.M. Forster only wrote this one sci-fi story, he really had a knack for it. He is of course best known for classics like A Room with a View (which I plan to read soon) and A Passage to India (which I read years ago, and is very good) etc. The Machine Stops is so good that it makes me want to read more of his books regardless of genre.
This story is in the public domain and you can find a free e-book edition at Manybooks.net and a free audiobook at Librivox. Now all you need is an hour or so to soak it all up!
_____________________________________ * The word "computer" does not appear anywhere in the text of course, 1909 y'know, that makes his prescience even more remarkable....more
“Technically he weighed about forty kilos, but as he walked along it felt more like five. Very strange, even unpleasant. Like walking on buttered gla
“Technically he weighed about forty kilos, but as he walked along it felt more like five. Very strange, even unpleasant. Like walking on buttered glass.”
This is my favorite feature of hard science fiction, the little minutiae that make the imaginary scenes not merely believable but also visceral; more vivid to me than riding on a dragon’s back and such. I like Kim Stanley Robinson’s conception of a Mars in the process of terraformation where global warming is actually a good thing!
Green Mars is the second book of KSR’s famous Mars trilogy, it follows on from Red Mars 50 years later where terraforming is in full swing. Many of “The First Hundred” characters (original colonists) from Red Mars play a significant part in this second volume, even the dead ones are often mentioned. The main story arc of Green Mars concerns terraformation and the fight for independence from Earth (bound to happen). Interestingly a faction of the Mars population, many of whom were born on Mars and have never been to Earth, are against terraforming and want to preserve Mars in its natural state. This is “The Reds” faction, their objection is (I think) for aesthetic reasons and to preserve what they perceive to be the purity of the pre-colonized planet. Their opposition comes from “The Greens” who want to fully terraform Mars so people can walk freely on the surface as we do on Earth.
Aside from the epic story arc the novel is very much a character study, to the detriment of my enjoyment of the book. The central characters are quite well developed, believable and complex individuals; the problem is that what they get up to is often not very interesting at all. There is a fascinating character named Sax Russell whose personal story is very dramatic at times and he ends up much the worse for wear. However, there are many pages where he is basically pottering around, studying plants, lichens, ice etc. This kind of narrative is very dry and my mind started to wander after a few such pages. Then there is Maya Toitovna who spends a lot of the novel inside her head, being very angry, resentful and unreasonable until she eventually works out her psychological problems. There are simply too many pages focused on her angst, which becomes quite tiresome, especially as I don’t personally identify with her problems
Green Mars has several protagonists (four or five I think) and the common problem with multiple points of view in a novel is very much in place here. Some characters are more interesting than others, and even the interesting ones spend too much time ruminating on issues, personal, scientific or philosophical; dragging the narrative down in the process.
Kim Stanley Robinson is an uncommonly good prose stylist for a hard SF writer. He comes up with pithy lines such as “It was not power that corrupted people, but fools who corrupted power.”; and almost lyrical passages like “In the first hour of the day all the ice glowed in vibrant pink and rose tones, reflecting tints of the sky. As direct sunlight struck the glacier’s smashed surfaces.”. However, he seems less interested in pacing and storytelling than to explore the issues that interest him, people, power, politics etc. I think he did a better job balancing the storytelling and the serious issue in Red Mars. Green Mars starts off well, gradually grinds to a halt, occasionally livens up with danger and explosive action, only to grind to a halt again. To be honest by the end of the book I have already lost interest.
Having read two volumes of the trilogy so far and really like the first one I am ambivalent about reading the final volume Blue Mars. It will be a shame not to read it having come this far, but at this point I don’t really know if I have the fortitude to plow through another volume so dry the book itself needs to be tarraformed....more