The Way of Kings is the first book by Brandon Sanderson I've read, and it's not hard to see what makes him a popular fantasy author. He shines any timThe Way of Kings is the first book by Brandon Sanderson I've read, and it's not hard to see what makes him a popular fantasy author. He shines any time there's fighting or combat, and his descriptions of battles are vivid, tense, and full of surprises. The story is appropriately epic while still focusing on four main characters. Plus the world he's built is unique and a far cry from any kind of Tolkien or D&D setting. At the same time, he achieves all that with a deft and economical style that is sadly absent any time a character opens their mouth. In this 1,200-page doorstop, you can quickly scan over his unnecessarily long tete-a-tetes when one character has yet another dryly arch argument with another--which is fortunate because they come up frequently. Sanderson seems to think that each exchange has to explore every possible argument and counter argument these characters could possibly dream up. I found it exhausting. If Sanderson didn't spend so many words on these conversations, he might have had time to move his -- again, highly engaging -- plot forward more than the incremental steps it takes in this first volume of who knows how many. I can't say I really understand why fantasy authors take on this more is more approach to writing. Sure, you want to spend time in this world, but there's a difference between being stuck listening to two people debate and actually seeing and experiencing the world. That said, there's a lot to like in this series, and I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes it....more
The Three Body Problem is an interesting book in terms of how it sets some of the ugliest parts of recent Chinese history as part of the background toThe Three Body Problem is an interesting book in terms of how it sets some of the ugliest parts of recent Chinese history as part of the background to man's first, doomed contact with a superior alien race. But it's a slog to read. I don't know if it's a by-product of the translation from Mandarin but the writing style is dry and mostly colorless. Instead of giving you a sense of being in the moment with the characters, after setting up a number of mysteries Cixin writes long passages where characters simply sit and explain something that happened in the past. While there are some great ideas in here about humanity, and whether humans are fit to live on the Earth or can redeem themselves, and the neat inclusion of hard science impressive (and thematic), there had to be a more artful way to bring all this together. Narratively, it's a mess....more
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy from the publisher. Anyone who's interested can read my very spoiler-heavy rundown of all the new changes toI was lucky enough to get an advance copy from the publisher. Anyone who's interested can read my very spoiler-heavy rundown of all the new changes to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, along with some speculation about how this book might connect to "The Force Awakens" on Blastr.com....more
I wish I could give a more glowing review to Andy Weir for The Martian, because in many respects it's a true achievement in science fiction. For thisI wish I could give a more glowing review to Andy Weir for The Martian, because in many respects it's a true achievement in science fiction. For this novel about how an astronaut stranded on Mars manages to stay alive like a techie Les Stroud, Weir seems to have thoroughly researched every aspect of what a near-future trip to Mars might look like, even down to the math--which he's more than happy to show for you. That gives the story a strong sense of believability, particularly for science fiction, but I'd argue that writers in any genre would benefit from giving this much thought to science and logic. That said, at a certain point, there's really TOO much math here. You start to feel like instead of a thrilling tale of survival, you're reading something more like an instruction manual. And because Weir relies on journal entries to tell the stranded astronaut's side of the story--which is great for showing his personality--in the middle of the novel he falls into the trap of writing one entry that says "A catastrophic problem happened and I'm going to die!" followed by the next entry where he's solved the problem. The main character is SO upbeat, in fact, that he never really conveys a real sense of danger or fear. Weir does include some third person sections about the engineers at NASA mission control and the crew sent to rescue the astronaut, and the book is much better for it, even if those sections are a little thin. But I still found myself wanting to rush through the middle passages to calll The Martian an uniquivocally great book. ...more
Day of the Oprichnik imagines a near-future Russia where a tsar rules again and the titular oprichniks (along with a varied menagerie of other mysteriDay of the Oprichnik imagines a near-future Russia where a tsar rules again and the titular oprichniks (along with a varied menagerie of other mysterious government bureaus) spend their day quelling dissent, killing revolutionary thinkers, bribing customs agents, and generally leaving a path of destructon in their wake--all in the service of the motherland. Unlike most dystopian works that center on the oppressed, Vladimir Sorokin has the story narrated by one of the oppressors, who goes about his day with a dark attitude of, "Isn't all of this awesome?" The novel reads like something from the 1960's or 1970's by Vonnegut or Joseph Heller, in the best way possible. Since I'm not Russian, I probably missed 70 percent of Sorokin's allusions to contemporary Russian politics and culture. But the frustration, anger, and fear at the heart of the book ring clear....more
Reggie Love was President Obama's bodyman during the 2008 campaign and after Obama entered office, which means he was responsible for handling the canReggie Love was President Obama's bodyman during the 2008 campaign and after Obama entered office, which means he was responsible for handling the candidate-then-president's meals, wardrobe, wake-ups, workouts, phone calls, and all kinds of other minute details. So Love has probably seen and heard some really fascinating and crazy things in his time at the president's right arm. Unfortunately, it seems like Love is holding most of those stories close to his vest for now, and what we get are a collection of the times that the author learned a particularly poignant life lesson from either Obama, another staffer, or his parents. Love also tries to blend in his experiences as a top NCAA basketball player and NFL-tryout to how those roles helped him navigate working on the campaign trail--comparisons that don't always seem to fit. In all, we hear very little about life in the White House. Most of the book is devoted to the campaign, which is far more gruelling (and a better underdog story) then what became a comparatively cushy West Wing job. That's not to say this book wasn't interesting--and maybe it's too much to expect a deep, revealing analysis or probing insight from one of Obama's most trusted employees and friends. Even what little we hear from Obama is interesting, if only to see examples of his sense of humor, the times he was annoyed or angry (most often, over a poor food choice) or exhausted, or the times that he managed to finesse a conflict that might sink another politician. ...more
The only other Thomas Pynchon novel I've read is Inherent Vice, which I liked. So I don't know if all his novels are dense and intricate modern noir,The only other Thomas Pynchon novel I've read is Inherent Vice, which I liked. So I don't know if all his novels are dense and intricate modern noir, or just these two. But I couldn't help but read them as two sides of the same coin: east coast/west coast, NY/LA, etc.
It often feels like we remember the time before September as both innocent and prosperous, and the years after the attacks as both unifying and frightening. But through the novel's heroine Maxine and her investigation of New York's not-quite-underworld--she's a Certified Fraud Examiner chasing dotcom finances--Pynchon reminds us that most of the post-Sept. 11 evils we live with were largely in place before the World Trade Center fell. At the same time, it would be impossible for a novel like this to exist before 2001. We're probably much more credulous today about the connections Maxine finds between billionare tech moguls, secret Defense Department projects, pervasive surveillance, ominous server farms, and CIA hitmen. Even when mobsters make an apperance, it's as semi-retired crooks who invest their racketeering earnings on the NASDAQ.
Maxine hardly seems to solve the mysteries she uncovers, instead a couple characters towards the end advance most-likely-case theories about what was behind all this, and we're left trying to decide who we really believe. (Although a second read through of the novel might help make the whole chain of events more clear.) But what makes this novel enjoyable, and what I enjoy about Pynchon's writing in general, is how almost every sentence seems to simultaneously weave together criticism, satire, dark humor, and a little thrill for good measure....more
I wanted to check out this book almost as soon as I found out my wife and I were having a daughter. There's something about easily kids today seem toI wanted to check out this book almost as soon as I found out my wife and I were having a daughter. There's something about easily kids today seem to get plugged into these marketing and branding engines that makes me uneasy--although when I expressed this to my parents they asked me how it was any different from my childhood (and, admittedly, adult) fixation on Star Wars and Legos. WERE they different? Hopefully Peggy Orenstein would have some answers.
Combining her own anedotes about her childhood and teenage years, her experiences with a young daughter, interviews with parents and children, and a good amount of scientific research and surveys. There's a lot of hand-wringing here that doesn't always seem entirely justified, worry of what kind of message this toy is sending or whether the titular Cinderella makes an appropriate role model, etc. Some of it seems to reflect a certain kind of parental yearning--even though Orenstein says she wants her daughter to experience life as a process of unfettered self-discovery, it's clear that she has a very specific set of attitudes and opinions she would like her grown daughter to possess. At the same time, Orenstein is generally good about admitting when science says her fears are probably nothing to worry about--for example, she discovers that the more violent original versions of Grimm's Fairy Tales might actually be BETTER for young children in terms of giving voice to inborn human fears than their neutered Disney versions. And there's a lot in the book that's simply good to know: That Disney and every other toy maker really is cynically focused on fostering a lifetime of brand loyalty at a shockingly young age, that the iron curtain between boys toys and the pink aisle is a fairly recent invention, but also that kids do their own gender sorting, that social networks are a minefield for teens and learning how to navigate them younger may not be helpful. If anything, the book is best at sifting through all the dry and controversial opinions on the matters of raising girls and presenting them in a readable, simple way....more