First off: don't read this before Leviathan Wakes. The appreciation of the drastic changes between the protagonist in this book and Leviathan play an...moreFirst off: don't read this before Leviathan Wakes. The appreciation of the drastic changes between the protagonist in this book and Leviathan play an important role in appreciating the novella. Even though it is a prequel, it spends no time acclimating you to the world of the Belt and Mars society and Earth politics and why there are tall, skinny, pale people talking like they forgot how to use vowels properly. This just isn't a proper introduction to this universe, you'll find that in Leviathan Wakes. I like to think of it more as a companion than a prequel.
And as a companion to Leviathan Wakes, The Butcher of Anderson Station succeeds marvelously. It doesn't really add anything to the mythology or provide intriguing new characters, but what it does do is show a new side to an important figure from Leviathan: Frederick Johnson (the eponymous Butcher). Told Aaron Sorkin-style with present day scenes (taking place three years before the opening of Leviathan) showing an interrogation of Fred by mysterious OPA members, and intercut with flashbacks to the actual Station's attack.
Because of this, it's a brisk and light read with near-constant tension and a clear and focused skewering of the military's sometimes impulsive and unreasonable reactions in war time. And due to the novella format, the 48 page story manages to cut faster and deeper, and in turn feel a bit more realistic and involving, than its 500 page brother's view on the same issues.(less)
An insanely cool idea, if maybe not completely original, (we don't die, we wake up as ourselves on a million other worlds over and over again) is slog...moreAn insanely cool idea, if maybe not completely original, (we don't die, we wake up as ourselves on a million other worlds over and over again) is slogged down by poor pacing, uninteresting characters, and an overabundance of weirdness for weirdness' sake. It sounds interesting in parts: prostitutes that kill themselves for cash, children who are adults that were reborn in their younger bodies, a massive tower where religions from the metaverse go to die - but it all crashes together like a wreck instead of fitting nicely like a jigsaw puzzle.
The main culprit? In my opinion it's Edison's prose. This is the kind of book that uses the word "apoplectic" instead of "angry." The book's plot and characters and settings are weird and confusing enough, so is it necessary to have a character named Elisabetta Bratislaus in the same book where the word solipsistic is treated like the world's most common adjective? I don't think so. I think Edison overcompensated where under compensation was required (if that's a thing). His aim and goals are laudatory; his delivery is not.
Points for a gay protagonist whose sexuality is treated like the color of his hair or the size of his gut - just a passing trait - but major demerits for his boring personality. His jokey mannerisms aim for irreverence and hit annoying right on the mark. Edison's attempt to make him into an everyman so he could be more easily relatable just result in an everyman no one wants to relate with.
I didn't hate this book. It's clunky, a slog for nearly all its run, awfully pretentious at times, and more often than not too occupied with being bonkers than with being coherent. But it is intriguing, at the least. You won't be able to read much in a session due to its thick prose and byzantine plot (which adds to the sluggish pacing), but when you aren't reading you probably will be thinking about it. Edison, for all his faults, clearly has a vast imagination. Once he masters more clearly transcribing what's in his head to what's on the page, he could be a real knockout. For now, he's just made a below-average Sci-fi/Fantasy book with a killer hook and not much else.(less)
Let's start with a question: why are people eating this book up like it's anything on par with quality YA titles like Hunger Games? Or any book so hum...moreLet's start with a question: why are people eating this book up like it's anything on par with quality YA titles like Hunger Games? Or any book so humbly mentioned on the dust jacket like The Passage or Ender's Game? Here's my honest answer: I don't know. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when I see a sheet carved out of an Entertainment Weekly and covered in praise such as "a modern sci-fi masterpiece" and "nothing short of amazing" I have to start wondering who's playing a practical joke on me. Because this is just plain bad.
So the gist of the plot is that Earth has been invaded by aliens who do terrible things in "waves." They knock out the power, they flood the coasts, they decimate us with plagues, they trick us with alien/human hybrids, and the major mystery of the book is what the eponymous "Fifth Wave" will be. It's the most interesting part of the entire thing but it also shares the burden in being the only original part of the book. In a heap of sci-fi stereotypes - from aliens that look like us to a floating mothership and a resistance of scraggy-but-hopeful humans - the hope that an unexpected Fifth Wave could come along and burst these predictable plot threads is almost enough to pull you through the book. Almost.
But here's the problem with it: the protagonist sucks. Cassie is a so-called "hardcore" chick who shoots and kills more innocent people in this book than aliens and bitches and whines and pities herself in what sees more page real-estate than actual, meaningful character development or plot. Her basic character traits never make sense. The first half of the book we see her taking care of herself (while still reminiscing about hot guys from before the invasion) but at least she has the potential to be endearing because we know in the end she is alone and responsible for her own further existence.
Then halfway through the book she completely loses all common sense when a hot guy with a six pack and "arms of steel" whisks her away to a cabin in the woods to broodily stare at her and sponge bathe her. Seriously. That happens. And as a reader we see the twist coming upon the first mention of the size of his chest, but Cassie stays in an annoyingly complacent state of ignorance for nearly 100 pages. Why should I like this girl who probably wouldn't have given Evan two glances if he had been some average-looking guy with skinny arms and bad skin? Why should I care if she lives or dies? Not to mention the fact that when she's being snarky for about the first third of the book, it's to herself and it comes off as oddly self-serving and arrogant. Like she's preparing a comedy show before a live audience. I get that she's a teenage girl but in the light of half of the species dying all of this "witty" chatter comes off as annoyingly glib.
There are parts that shine through the idiocy, fortunately, and some writing that isn't fully out-and-out bad. Like when Cassie mentions how quiet it is and how "Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars scraping against the sky. That's how quiet it is." That's quite nice, a real human moment from a character who, for the most part, feels like they're pretending to be human.
But then you get lines like this, spoken from one of the few other points-of-view characters: "Before the alien Armageddon happened, I was known for my smile. Not bragging too much but I had to be careful never to smile while I drove: it had the capacity to blind oncoming traffic." Hearing a character explain to another character what makes them likable is the epitome of lazy-ass character development. Show me him being charming, give me a scene of him being snarky in the face of alien drama, make me want to like him. Don't just tell me why I should and assume I will. It's like the literary version of pulling my arm up against my back and not letting go until I cry uncle and promise to be as weak-in-the-knees towards him as the other idiotic protagonist is.
There's just not much to recommend here. Yancy seems unable to handle the point-of-view of a teenage girl (and boy, for that matter) and saying the love moments in this book fall flat would be an understatement. It's a sci-fi book where all of the sci-fi elements are built as a road-map to get the protagonists in what are supposed to be emotional moments of discovery but end up being dull as dirt, exposing in the process how little thought out the sci-fi elements are to begin with.
This book is hard to wrap my head around. On one hand, it's utterly flippin' brilliant. A billionaire old man who got his fortune from smuggling drugs...moreThis book is hard to wrap my head around. On one hand, it's utterly flippin' brilliant. A billionaire old man who got his fortune from smuggling drugs down from canada builds this awesome MMORPG that overtakes World of Warcraft and becomes super popular, who has a niece whose boyfriend is doing dirty business with a conman and they all get in trouble with the russian mafia so they get kidnapped to china where they run into the hackers who originated the virus, not to mention a world-reknown terrorist about to blow up a world-leaders conference and the MI6 agent who is hunting them.
And from there, things start to get interesting.
Okay, that's all cool and stuff. But what I can't figure out is if this is the smartest dumb book I've ever read, or the dumbest smart book I've ever read. For context, this is the kind of book that isn't afraid to go on a tangent and explain that it is more realistic for a person to shit their pants in a situation of high stress than it is for them to piss their pants. Keepin' it classy, Mr. Stephenson.
But, seriously, the dialogue is awkwardly cringe-worthy at times, not to mention the over-use of exclamation points that really started driving me crazy. And the plot hinges on coincidences that are one in a million chances, I couldn't really ever suspend my belief enough to allow them to pass. But, it did have like all three Transformers movies worth of action in it and moved pretty swiftly for 1,000 plus pages... so I gave it a solid four stars.
For your own judgement, here's a statement from an actual character in this totally real book: "You're just clever enough to be stupider than if you weren't clever at all."
Like seriously, is that the most brilliant thing you ever heard, or is it just a bunch of words smooshed together with the hopes of sounding intelligent and world-weary? I. Just. Don't. KNOW. (less)
There's no real way to avoid this so I'm just going to start with it: this is Game of Thrones in space. It's also not at all, but mostly it is. The st...moreThere's no real way to avoid this so I'm just going to start with it: this is Game of Thrones in space. It's also not at all, but mostly it is. The story of a small, seemingly unimportant action causing dominoes to fall and lead to an unimaginably big war with all manner of people picking sides and a supernatural entity waiting in the wings that no one wants to talk about. But the detailed minutiae, the raw world-building, the head-spinning political maneuvers and plot twists that make A Song of Ice and Fire feel like you're dining on fine steak when you read it, just aren't here. If ASOIAF is filet mignon, then Leviathan Wakes is a Big Mac. Blunt, obvious, absolutely delicious in the moment but with the tiniest guilt leftover once you're done with it. And it's absolutely worth the carbs.
Telling the story (in the always binge-worthy alternating of character perspective every chapter) of, at its grandest intentions, an intergalactic war sparked by the good intentions of XO Jim Holden. And, at its most intimate level, the human interactions and reactions (mostly between Holden and Detective Miller) to that war. It's a very classic set-up: Holden is young and naive and thinks that humanity as a whole will do the right thing given the chance (remember how I said he accidentally incites a war? I wonder what the author's saying about humanity there...).
Miller, unsurprisingly, is older, battle-worn, a no-bullshit cop on the hunt for a missing girl who has mysterious ties to some very nasty forces that may be behind the entire conflict. When they talk it sounds like those angels and devils that popped up on characters' shoulders in old cartoons. But Corey finds the humor in it, injecting unexpected actions into Holden and Miller's characters and really tearing apart their subconscious on a chapter-by-chapter basis. There's a small issue in the second half of the book (once their story lines converge) where chapters bleed into one another and begin shedding light on the fact that their voices and internal monologues sound fairly similar. It's awkward and took me out of the book a few times, having to quickly remind myself who I was reading from, but it definitely didn't ruin it for me.
And the reason it didn't is because I love the bluntness of this book. There's something absolutely liberating about reading the word "Zombie" in a book that has zombies that makes me want to pump my fist in the air. I mean really, did the world prior to the apocalypse in The Walking Dead never have zombie fiction? These people should be screaming "HOLY SHIT ZOMBIES", instead they're spending time coming up with clever ways around the word, thinking it adds an air of class to the proceedings and makes it less of a genre show. Shit drives me crazy.
There are Vomit Zombies in Leviathan Wakes. Five sentences after these Vomit Zombies are introduced, the main character - and not even the brash, young main character, the old, grizzled, everything is black-and-white main character, I'm talking about - literally says the words "Vomit Zombies." It's so completely ridiculous, but works so well in building the world these people live in. Sometimes the dialogue takes a hit for the team in its stilted, trying-to-be-clever department, but for every cringe-worthy moment where Holden flirts with Naomi, there's a gem like this:
"Way I see it, there's three ways this can go," Miller said. "One, we find your ship still in dock, get the meds we need, and maybe we live. Two, we try to get to the ship, and along the way we run into a bunch of mafia thugs. Die gloriously in a hail of bullets. Three, we sit here and leak out of our eyes and assholes."
There aren't any subtleties here, Corey gives the dialogue that seems like it should be Holden's to Miller (and then vice versa), and it shows shades of gray you didn't realize were there before, creating characters that actually feel like live human beings that have more than one defining personality trait. It's also just a fucking hilarious line.
And speaking of Holden and Miller, although it's not mined nearly enough, there are actual sweet and touching moments between the two that easily catch you off guard after reading lines about ass-holes leaking. Their competing world-views (Holden trying to save everyone and Miller thinking it's okay if the few die so the many can live) actually help surprise not only the reader in the moment of genuine sweetness in the middle of the book, but Holden and Miller, too. It's probably the most subtle the book ever gets, actually.
The big problem here, running back to that Game of Thrones comparison, is that there's no personification to the sides of the war. We know Earth and Mars are fighting and the Belt is on its own side and that there are strings being pulled behind the scenes by a shadowy organization, but even the closest thing the book comes to having a villain is cut short before we get real answers. Earth and Mars just hate each other and after Holden slips up in the novel's opening chapters, claiming his ship was destroyed by a Martian stealth ship, Earth has a reason to go after them. But since these are planets at war, and not the devious Lannisters and courageous Starks, it's hard to personify their motivations. I'm not saying it's Corey's fault not including characters that would have done that, because it would have probably come off as simplified, blanketing the motivations of one person onto a planet, it's just one of those things you have to take in stride with the grandness of the story that's being told. And I just found it hard to get invested in the faceless war.
Which is unfortunate, given that the far more interesting aspect of the novel is seen much less: the alien species that shot a missile of goop at Earth when the planet was a mass of protoplasmic marshes, missed, and caused the other plot in the book to take place. (Aka Vomit Zombies) I'm assuming this is explored further in the abundant sequels, which I eagerly await reading.
And that's the other thing about Leviathan Wakes, it definitely feels like the first book in a series. A lot of time is built up introducing Holden and Miller (They don't even meet until nearly 300 pages into the book), giving reason to the interplanetary war that seems a bit too neatly tied up by the end, and with a cliffhanger regarding the alien goop that is all-too cliffhanger-y. I'm also questioning the big, bold quotes on the back of these books that claim it to be a hollywood blockbuster in book form. There's action, sure, but this is definitely a book where characters use words to get out of a tough spot more often than bullets. Which is all fine and good, it just makes the resulting finale a bit of a whimper more than a bang.
All the same, I will read the crap out of this series, and all it's spin-off novellas, until Corey (who's actually two guys, one of which is George RR Martin's assistant, go figure) is sick and tired of writing about Vomit Zombies. I will now lead you with a list of my favorite quotes from the book, further proof of it's ingenious stupidity.
"Pleasure in killing hadn't come until after Julie, and it wasn't really pleasure as much as the brief cessation of pain."
"I've seen you looking at me. I know exactly what those looks mean, because I spent four years on the other side of them. But I only got your attention when I was the only female on board, and that's not good enough for me." YOU GO, GIRL.
"All his smiles looked like he was hearing a good joke at a funeral."
"There's a right thing to do," Holden said. "You don't have a right thing, friend," Miller said. "You've got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong."
The impetus for every sci-fi novel with a generation ship that followed it, Heinlein's original is still exciting and wildly intriguing almost 70 year...moreThe impetus for every sci-fi novel with a generation ship that followed it, Heinlein's original is still exciting and wildly intriguing almost 70 years later.
I think I'll be checking out some of his other stories very soon.(less)
A cool, creepy, claustrophobic and paranoia-induced chiller about an Antarctic research camp overrun by an alien entity that can imitate any form of l...moreA cool, creepy, claustrophobic and paranoia-induced chiller about an Antarctic research camp overrun by an alien entity that can imitate any form of life. Leans more toward scientific babble than sci-fi horror that Carpenter's 1980s remake wholly embraced. But it's still a super-quick read, and a great warning story to boot.(less)