Sanderson sees this as his version of an action movie, and that's exactly how it works. It felt more like a screenplay than a novel. And I think it woSanderson sees this as his version of an action movie, and that's exactly how it works. It felt more like a screenplay than a novel. And I think it would make a pretty good movie, just as it is a pretty good book. Like many, if not most action screenplays, the main motivation is simple: revenge. The title character killed the narrator's father in the prologue and he has devoted his life to seeking revenge. There's just enough layered on top of this to make it both interesting and fun. But there are times when it veered towards being too thin for me.
The basic premise is fairly simple. Something weird has happened in the sky and it seems to have given some people superpowers. (I would have preferred an invasion of radioactive insects, who bit people, but you takes your premises as you find them.) The new breed of supermen and women all have one other thing in common: they all seem to become vain, ambitious, amoral assholes. And they pretty much ruin civilization in the process of trying self-aggrandization.
Steelheart is the emperor/asshole leader of Newcago, the successor to Chicago. Opposed to him is basically no-one except the narrator, and a group called the Reckoners whose main goal is killing off whichever "Epics" they can. Steelheart is not on the list until the narrator convinces them that they might have a chance against him. But how can the Reckoners be powerful enough to stand up to the Epics? This was a question which leads to the "surprises" that come later in the book. I found none of them all that surprising.
Rather, I felt this was a fun, but workman-like book, with a very nicely crafted story, with characters who could essentially be lifted from any caper movie, and with a few genuinely amusing touches. The magic system, as always, is pretty cool and very well thought out. And the world is interesting. I will probably continue on with the series. It's not as good as Sanderson's best books, but its good enough to leave me wanting some more. I put it on about the same level as the Wax and Wayne books. Better than the Alcatraz books, but not as good as Mistborn, Elantris, or the Stormlight books....more
There's a lot of really cool stuff that happens in this book, but Stephenson lets almost all of it take place off camera so he can dwell on what reallThere's a lot of really cool stuff that happens in this book, but Stephenson lets almost all of it take place off camera so he can dwell on what really interests him: long, loving descriptions of his new toys. So while another author might have had a point of view on the Earth, so we might feel something about its destruction, Stephenson gives them all the long view, so he can wow us with the workings of no less than four kinds of robots. In Reamde, I had the feeling that he liked guns more than people, and as much as he liked guns, he loves gliders, robots, orbital mechanics, rocketry, and all things geeky.
And yet, I still liked this book. The situation is compelling. His descriptions of the things that he does like are entertaining and fascinating. I have some reservations about his vision of the way people would actually behave when faced with the end of the world. But, putting that aside, I found this book sometimes compelling, and sometimes even thrilling. I just wish that he would have put more of the harrowing stuff into the narrative itself. (Spoiler in parenthesis: The stuff that happens with the Arkies seems much more interesting and dramatic than what happened with Endurance, but we only get a summary of those events after the fact.)
In most of his books, structure seems to be something of a challenge for Stephenson. And here, he pretty much throws it out entirely. You can see the book as two basically unfinished novels that lean somewhat on each other. Or as three parts tossed together, all of them united, but not quite making a whole. Or just as a huge, fascinating mess. The third part takes place 5000 years after the Earth has been burnt to a cinder. This section is about 250 pages, but Stephenson really needs about 6-700 pages of info dump here, so it feels woefully incomplete, and has hints of a sequel (or perhaps a midquel).
I liked this, and I still really like Stephenson, but I also have to say that I think this may be the book of his that I have liked least. It's not as tight or as suspenseful as Reamde. The ideas are not as cool as Anatham. It's not as glorious as The Baroque Cycle, nor as thrilling as Cryptonomicon, nor as just plain cool as either Snow Crash or The Diamond Age. But it's good, and I'm glad I read it. If Stephenson did decide to write another book in this universe, I would be happy to pick that up too....more
It didn't suck quite as much as I was expecting it to, so I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. But don't get me wrong. It did suck.
The Chicago TIt didn't suck quite as much as I was expecting it to, so I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. But don't get me wrong. It did suck.
The Chicago Transit Authority employs 9661 people. It runs the busses and trains in Chicago. If we assume that two thirds of these people work on the bus lines (a generous assumption), that leaves appox 3220 people working on the trains. In Divergent, there has been a devastating war that wiped out most of Chicago. Lake Michigan is now just a swamp, and entire neighborhoods are rubble. But somehow the El was left unscathed and operational.
At the start of the book, the five factions gather to divide their 16 year olds up amongst them. Just over twenty of them end up as Dauntless. If we assume 25 kids go for initiation into each faction, that puts the entire population of 16 year olds in Chicago at about 125. Extrapolate from this, and it means that the total population of Chicago in this book is somewhere around 10,000. The workforce might generously be somewhere around 6000. So who the hell is running the trains???
The major purpose of the Dauntless faction is to protect the border. Protect it from what? It seems that nobody in the book knows. Tris' father is one of the leaders of the government, but Tris has never heard a single word about what threats exist from outside Chicago. These are just minor examples, but the heart of the problem is that nothing in this world makes the slightest sense. In the self-congratulatory "bonus materials,' Roth says that one of the cool thinks about dystopian fictions is imagining how the world got that way. That would be nice, if it made any sense at all. But here, from the major concepts to minor details, it makes no sense at all.
Then, when the serum turns all the Dauntless into automatons, Tris remarks how it has turned them into perfect soldiers. She has been training to be a soldier for the whole book. The game of capture the flag shows that intelligence and initiative are vital to becoming a soldier. So where did she get this idea that mindless automatons are somehow ideal as soldiers? She didn't, and this idea on its own undercuts all of her training, and the point of most of the book.
Also, when she has the chance, she refuses to kill one of the main agents of evil, because she simply can't, even though he poses a direct threat to her. A few pages later, she does kill one of her best friends, who is now one of those automatons. What's the distinction? You won't find it.
Add to that the ever annoying first person present voice, the plot holes, the cartoon character villains (and heros) for that matter. And, finally, Tris is supposed to be a badass girl who does remarkable things on her own. But from what I saw, she is forever being rescued. She doesn't formulate or act on plans of her own for the most part. And when she gets in big trouble, someone else arrives at the opportune moment to rescue her. I didn't see much badassness about her. Instead, I found her a bit dull, and I still have a hard time figuring out what is supposed to be special about her, or about "divergence" in general. Not likely to continue in this series. A little of it went a long way....more
Shusterman imagines that a part of the underclass really become an underclass - living in deep tunnels underneath the subways of New York. To preserveShusterman imagines that a part of the underclass really become an underclass - living in deep tunnels underneath the subways of New York. To preserve themselves, the Downsiders minimize their contact with Topsiders. Of course, this delicate situation threatens to blow up when the main character gets too curious about life above, and falls for a Topside girl.
While good, this lacked both the depth of character and the cleverness of either his Skinjacker or Unwind books. In general, this felt like an early work. It almost completely lacks a sense of danger, even when the main character is tried, sentenced to death, and executed. Similarly, I thought the treatment of the main girl and her family was thin and too stereotyped. It's a decent book, but not anywhere as good as some of the other things I've read of his....more
This was a satisfying finish to a very good series. I didn't like the series quite as much as Everlost, but I still thought it was several cuts aboveThis was a satisfying finish to a very good series. I didn't like the series quite as much as Everlost, but I still thought it was several cuts above typical YA fare. In another market setting, these books would just be books, and not relegated to the "YA" shelves. But, I guess teens read more than adults these days, so it makes excellent sense to market them in this way.
In this book, I didn't like the two main characters (Conner and Risa) that much. Conner didn't actually do much of anything here, and Risa, unfortunately, became something of the stand-by-your-man girlfriend. On the other hand, other characters became even more interesting in this book, most notably Argent. I very much liked his twisted redemption. And then there is Lev, who stands with Mary Hightower (from Everlost) as Shusterman's best creations. Lev is complicated, torn, and just a wonderful character. His development over the course of the series has made the whole thing more than worthwhile.
Spoilers ahead. Lev starts as a willing tithe, a kid who has been born to be unwound, a living donation. He transforms into a clapper, a suicide bomber whose explosives are literally carried in the blood. And then becomes the clapper who didn't clap. From there, he develops a kind of saviour complex. And in this book, he reverts back to his roots - becoming both a tithe and a clapper. Without the explosives in his blood, he offers himself up as a sacrifice by clapping in public, and getting shot down for his efforts. I loved this ending for his character. I thought it was fitting, and both noble and tragic.
And then, Shusterman had to undercut his own ending, by having Lev live. And he did the same with Conner, who gets unwound and then rewound. At first I was annoyed with Shusterman. I know that YA books have been very hesitant to show real sacrifices. We must have happy endings, and as a result, Harry Potter becomes noble because he tries to sacrifice himself, but doesn't actually have to pay the price of the sacrifice. I thought Shusterman was caving into the same pressure.
But then, there was the wedding at the end, and I completely changed my mind. The wedding was sort of bizarre, between Una and the divided aspects of her love, Will. The traditional ending for a comedy is a wedding, or a bunch of weddings. Earlier in the book, Shusterman made several allusions to Shakespeare: "winter of our discontent" - "sound and fury, signifying nothing". It's hard for me to believe that he was unaware that the wedding signaled that these books are ultimately a comedy in structure. They end with restoration, with mending, both figuratively and literally. Thus, I came to think of the healing of Conner and Lev as being a brilliant tip of the hat to this essentially comedic structure. So my annoyance turned to admiration. And, if there is a quote from Shakespeare that captures the mending spirt that the book captures, perhaps it's Puck's farewell:
If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber'd here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend: And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call; So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends....more
I wrote a long review of this book and Goodreads ate it. I have to start writing the reviews in a word processor and pasting them here. This has happeI wrote a long review of this book and Goodreads ate it. I have to start writing the reviews in a word processor and pasting them here. This has happened too many times. Here's the shorthand version of the review.
Better than the first book.
It concentrates on Draka consolidation of new territory, especially on the domestication of their new slaves. Draka are bastards. New generation of Draka think that its their birthright. They see themselves as becoming a kind of philosopher king after the entire world has been subjugated, but along the way they blithely witness and inflict mass impalings, horrible tortures, gang rapes, and its all just a logical consequence of being supermen.
Stirling does very well by taking seriously what it might mean to create a society of Zarathustras. He makes them totally repugnant, but also manages to make them more than one-dimensional. He also does very well showing a wide range of reactions among their subjects, from defiance to a kind of passive resistance to acceptance to allegiance, and all for different and believable motives.
The plot, a spy story involving secrets on microfilm, is pretty thin, but its there as a skeleton on which Stirling can hang his outlines of the developing Draka plantation society. That picture is done nicely, even if its subject is repellant.
I will definitely move on in the near future to the next book in the series. ...more
I've sworn many times that I will no longer read series until they are finished, and yet I keep breaking my own rule. I'm fairly confident that ShusteI've sworn many times that I will no longer read series until they are finished, and yet I keep breaking my own rule. I'm fairly confident that Shusterman won't pull a GRR Martin or a Jordan with this series. But for some reason, I thought that this would be a trilogy.
The first two books in this series worked reasonably well as stand-alone works. Of course, I think Shusterman hadn't planned a sequel when he wrote Unwound, so its no surprise that that one worked on its own. The second one had a decent, coherent structure on its own as well. This one, not so much. Several of the plot threads are left hanging. And there's no big climactic event to bring the novel to close, as with either of the last two.
Rather, the characters get put into place for what is likely to be a fairly satisfying finish to this series. And I will definitely read it. I'm just a little miffed that I'll probably have to wait a couple of years. I enjoy these things so much more when I simply read them straight through.
On the plus side, there's one really good new character addition in this book. I found myself liking Grace a lot. She's supposed to be "low cortical," which is a type of mental handicap. But she's extremely good at strategy games. She sees things differently than most people, and Shusterman writes her very well. And Lev, as always, is a pleasure to follow. I also found myself more interested in Cam, the series Frankenstein monster.
I could do without the present tense narrative. I have a degree in Screenwriting, so I should probably be able to easily roll with this kind of writing. But I still find it jarring in a novel. And I haven't yet been able to bring myself to read a book written in the first person present. That's a voice that just grates on me from the outset, and I've never been able to stomach more than a few paragraphs of it....more
One of the things I like about Shusterman is that, once he grabs hold of an idea, he does everything he can to milk it. I loved that about the SkinjacOne of the things I like about Shusterman is that, once he grabs hold of an idea, he does everything he can to milk it. I loved that about the Skinjacker series, and he is doing the same thing here. The basic idea of this series is that "unwinding" is a new medical technology that allows doctors to harvest every part of a person for re-use. The first book started with the premise that parents could no longer abort their kids, but they could opt to unwind their problem teenagers. This creates a nice supply of organs to treat pretty much every ailment, but is not so great from the standpoint of the teens.
Stand the unwind idea on its head and you have Frankensteining (if I may coin a new word), or what Shusterman calls rewinding. Doctors also now have the ability to create a new person from a collection of parts. But does the new person have a "soul."? Thats one of the things that Shusterman starts to play with in this book. And since the next book is called Unsouled, I'm pretty confidant that it will dive deeper into this mess. While some people insist that the rewound boy has no soul, others are just as insistent that the soul of an unwound teen persists in the teen's "divided" state. When you get the arms of a guitar player, you get the muscle memory that comes with it, and perhaps you also inherit part of his soul?
Sacrifice is the other idea that Shusterman weaves throughout the book. Primitive cultures would use the idea of ritual human sacrifice to please the gods, and thus help the community by making it rain, or some such thing. In every war, young people are called upon to fight and possibly die for the greater good of their country, often against their will. Unwinding comes down to a variation on this idea. Teens are sacrificed for the greater good. Every unwound kid can save the lives of several and perhaps many other people. Thus, unwinding should be a blessing, right? How many saved live would it take to justify the death of one person?
Here, Shusterman's heroes are the teens who have escaped unwinding and are fighting against it. Each one of them has to face a situation where they must decide whether to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of other unwounds. So, while fighting against themselves being used for the benefit of others, they (or at least some of them) volunteer themselves up for the benefit of others. The cool thing is that Shusterman does this repeatedly, and it never feels like he's hitting you over the head with preachiness. It just naturally falls out as part of the storytelling. Conversely, what if someone wants to be unwound, to offer himself up for the benefit of others, but the proper consent isn't in place?
Finally, the first book didn't touch on this idea, but Shusterman starts playing with the idea of organlegging (as Larry Niven called it), or parts pirating in Shusterman's terminology. There are people who have made a practice of keeping up the supply of parts for transplant, by simply abducting kids and having them unwound. This helps keep the price of transplants down.
I really enjoyed this book, and just picked up a copy of Unsouled. I'm sold enough on Shusterman that I think I will keep reading his stuff, at least until I come across some stuff that's significantly below this level. He's just a very gifted story teller from what I have seen....more
This type of book is a tough sell for an author. It tells the story of what happened to Lev from the time he left CyFi to sometime before he appearedThis type of book is a tough sell for an author. It tells the story of what happened to Lev from the time he left CyFi to sometime before he appeared in the Graveyard. As such, it fills a hole in the story arcs in Unwind. But was there a need to fill such a hole? If so, then the author is pretty much admitting that he blew it when writing Unwind. If not, then what's the point of having this story.
Ultimately, I suppose its just for fun. And I also suspect that he let this story be released because there was something of a clamor for more in this world before he released Unwholly. On top of that, it's not at all clear how much of this is from Shusterman and who much belongs to Ms. Knowlden.
The result: it was OK, but a bit unnecessary. The idea of the Indians (Slotmongers here) using animal parts to fill their need for spare parts for sugery is really cool, but probably even less believable than the idea of unwinding itself. The story itself was slight, and while it is supposed to, on the surface, explain how Lev became a clapper, I think it fails in that regard. But it does succeed in showing how Lev became a failed clapper.
Overall, this was even slighter than I had expected, but it had the blessing of being really short, and it had a few moments that made it worthwhile for me. It certainly didn't put me off of continuing with the series....more
When you have the chance, its always a good idea to link to Monty Python.
In Dangerous Visions, a great collection of short stories edited by Harlan Ellison, there's a story called The Jigsaw Man, by Larry Niven. It starts:
" In A.D. 1900, Karl Landsteiner classified human blood into four types: A, B, AB and O, according to incompatibilities. For the first time, it became possible to give a shock patient a transfusion with some hope that it wouldn't kill him.
" The movement to abolish the death penalty was barely getting started, and already it was doomed."
It's a great little story about a man in a jail cell with two organ-leggers. All three face the death penalty for their crimes: the organ-leggers for kidnapping and killing people to sell their organs; the protagonist for an unspecified, but much more minor offense. Because the demand for organs is so high, their conviction and execution is a foregone conclusion.
This book follows much the same premise. Technology has made it possible to harvest all the tissue from a living body, and to use it in transplants. As a result, parents have the choice to "unwind" their teenagers: to send them to harvesting centers where their lives will continue in a divided state, becoming useful to society as spare parts for other, more worthy people. In this world, abortion has been outlawed, but to keep up the supply of unwanted teens, the law has also been changed so that anyone who finds an unwanted baby has legal responsibility for the child. Thus people often are forced to raise "storked" kids: ones that the mother has dumped on their doorstep.
Most of the criticisms I've read of this book focus on the implausibility of the premise. Unwinding was a compromise to end the Heartland War. It was suggested as a joke to appease both the pro-life and pro-choice movements. Pro-lifers should be happy because the unwound kid stays alive (albeit as replacement parts). Pro-choice people still get to choose, but the choice is delayed until adolescence, arguably when the mom can make a more informed decision. Looked at from this standpoint, the premise is entirely unbelievable.
But add in the possibility of basically ensuring immortality for people, so long as their is an ample supply of new tissue to transplant once something goes wrong with the old tissue. Under this scenario, the premise is still far fetched, but people will go a long way to find justifications for horrible things that serve their self-interest. I think it's very easy to buy into Niven's scenario, where the death penalty is available even for minor crimes, because it keeps up the supply of life-sustaining organs. I also think, if it were allowed, some people would sell aborted fetuses to scientists for their stem cells. So, to my way of thinking, the first premise of the book is just a large extrapolation. Societies change in attitude happened to quickly, but I don't see a whole lot wrong with the basic premise.
As for the idea of "storking," it sounds absurd that someone would be legally responsible for a baby just because it got dumped on the person's doorstep. Right? Here's how animal control laws work in my town. Suppose you find a stray dog, and you don't want it. You take it into your house to see if you can locate the owner, but its been abandoned. So no luck. You call animal control and ask them to pick up the stray. They will tell you that they won't pick up the dog because it is now under your protection, and thus not a stray. If you ask what would happen if you let the dog go and call them back, the answer is that they will pick up the dog and have you arrested for animal cruelty. Once you take in the stray, you are legally responsible either to care for it, or to find it another home. If you abandon it, you are guilty of animal cruelty. That's the same as the "storking" law here, and while I think its absurd, its obviously not far-fetched.
Onto the book itself: the plot is tight and clever. The characters are not as good, on the whole, as the ensemble of characters in the Everlost series, but Lev is a really good, fully realized character. And the others are more fully developed than in your typical YA book. At one point, it looked like this book might devolve into yet another YA tract on bullying, but Shusterman righted the ship pretty quickly, and the ending is terrific (both in the modern sense, and in the ancient sense deriving from "terror").
I will definitely be getting the other books in the series. In fact, I've already loaded Unstrung onto my kindle, only to find out afterward that its not really written by Shusterman. But it focuses almost entirely on Lev, so I'm still a bit optimistic. Good stuff.
When I first heard about Back to the Future, I thought there was a whole lot of potential in a time travel story whereLot's of spoilerish stuff ahead.
When I first heard about Back to the Future, I thought there was a whole lot of potential in a time travel story where a teen goes back and meets his teenaged mom. So I was expecting something like Oedipus, and got light-hearted Spielberg flick instead (and yes, I know he didn't actually direct it, but the first of the Back to the Future movies has always felt more like Spielberg than Zemekis).
I was surprised that Mr. Was, which is targeted at the younger part of the YA market, treads upon this same ground. The central premise is that Jack Lund discovers a fifty year door. Go through it one way, and you go back fifty years. The other way takes you forward fifty years. Jack decides to take the trip back fifty years and then wait so he can undo the murder of his mother. But in the past, he falls in love with his own grandmother. The difference between Jack, and Marty McFly, is that Jack doesn't know that Andie is his grandmother, and so the love is allowed to flourish. And the book ends up with the two of them living happily together. This ending was both very satisfying, and quite creepy.
The story is very crisp. I've read from other reviews that it is a mystery, and I suppose that for younger readers, it probably is. I thought the mystery aspect of the story was quite transparent. I immediately knew who Jack's grandmother and grandfather were, so the revelations in the book came as no surprise to me. But I still found myself admiring the way Hautman had constructed his little puzzle. It works astonishingly well. Most time travel stories get fouled up in one way or another on the various paradoxes that time travel might cause. The Back to the Future series started out by winking at them (Chuck Berry's brother calling Chuck to let him hear the 'new sound' he had been looking for), and eventually went so overboard that it became beyond silly. By contrast, Hautman is careful to construct his story so that by the end, there is no true paradox involved.
One minor point troubled me. When aging Jack appears in front of himself as a youth (in 1993), they are unable to see each other. I guess that's OK with a certain kind of poetic license. But although they can't see each other, young Jack can hear his older self. And they physically bump into each other at one point. I suppose in every time travel book, there has to be something where you just say "Well, OK". But this point still feels quite clumsy to me.
Finally, the more I think about it, the more I think that Hautman may have written this book as an anti-Back to the Future. Jack goes back in time to try to save his family, but he fails in that. While back, he falls for his grandmother. His rival, his Biff, is Skoros who ends up being his grandfather. Skoros uses a sheet from the financial page of a 1990s newspaper to make himself rich on the stock market (which is straight out of BTTF), and he thinks that he has killed his rival, here on Guadalcanal. The basic plot elements are strikingly similar, but Hautman's take has made something darker, less confectionary, and I think ultimately a bit more satisfying....more
In this dystopian satire, the USSA (the extra S is for safety or socialism) has criminalized most marginally unsafe activities. For example, you mustIn this dystopian satire, the USSA (the extra S is for safety or socialism) has criminalized most marginally unsafe activities. For example, you must wear a helmet and pads to walk down the street. This may seem silly, but it does not appear that law abiding citizens work. And the government has eliminated its prison system. Instead, it contracts out its prisoners to companies. Thus, criminalizing behavior has become a good profit center for the government, and it can increase safety while securing a cheap labor force, and while putting its thumb on the mostly young male population who might step out of line with the norm. Sound far-fetched? It is, but I'm not sure by how much.
The main character is a kid who gets sent up for several heinous crimes. He forgot to take his anger medicine. He didn't wear his protective knee pads during a running race. He insulted a fellow student. He attempted, but failed, to beat up that same student. And my favorite, he involuntarily caused an hysterical rash among the student body at his school. For these crimes, he gets three years working for a McDonalds pizza factory in the arctic.
The history of McDonalds is a hoot. It merged with General Motors. Then several years later, the merged manufacturer was taken over by the great Chinese retailer, Waltong. During the diplomatic wars with China in 2050, the USSA nationalized the company, then sold it to local interests. They, out of a sort of nostalgia, re-named the company McDonalds.
The prison/factory is a much different place. There's little concern for safety. The prisoners work 16 hours a day. All they eat is reject pizza pies. Anyone who gets out of line is liable to get put outside of the plant, where they would likely either freeze to death or get killed and eaten by polar bears. This would get written off as "died trying to escape."
The hero improves his position by winning a spot on the boss' pet football team. Football, of course, has been illegal for a long time. The boss, and the boss of a nearby Coke factory, keep teams on the sly, and arrange for a game between the two companies. It's a fiasco, lasting only about five plays, before the teams break into a riot.
This book is quite a bit of fun. The characters are very thin, but that's pretty much par for the course for most satire. The extrapolations are a bit over the top, but again, that's the stuff of satire. There are quite a few things that Hautman constructs quite well. For example, while the main character was at school, he worked on developing an AI as a computer project. In 2070, all high school students must show competence in creating an artificial intelligence which would pass the Turing test. The AI that he develops becomes one of the better characters in the book. In the end, this book falls more on the side of being clever, rather than being moving. Usually, that's a minus for me, but this one was done so nicely that it won me over. ...more
There were some improvements in this book. A few of the Garde members are starting to grow personalities. They aren't become very likeable, but for thThere were some improvements in this book. A few of the Garde members are starting to grow personalities. They aren't become very likeable, but for the first time, I'm getting the impression that they are somewhat distinct. And we now have some actual villains: namely Sedrakus Ra, and FBI agents Walker and Purdy. But that's about it for the good news.
For the most part, the Mogadorians are just cannon fodder. I'm not sure which they remind me of more: the clone army in Star Wars, or the droid army. Remember the thrilling prospect of a battle of an army of totally indistinct clones against an army of lifeless robots. That's about the level of engagement I feel when the Garde start turning hundreds of Mogs into ash. Basically, that seems to be the whole point of their existence. They've trained, been equipped with cool weaponry, sent by spaceships accross the galaxies. And their only mission in life is to get blown to smithereens. Think of the waste! Think of the cost involved!
And the Mogs have spent all this when they have a single guy who is more powerful than all of their enemies combined. So why not save some resources, and send Mr. Ra alone. The only trouble with Mr. Ra is that he seems to be the one being in the entire universe who might actually be dumber than John Smith, the hero of this series. Since the charm has worn off, Ra or his agents have had half of the remaining Garde in captivity at one time or another (that includes Four, Six, and Nine). His mission is to kill them, but for some reason he doesn't get around to killing them when it's easy. In this book, it seems like he is more fond of trash talking than anything else. Oh, he has an excuse for not killing here, but anyone who gives it a seconds thought realizes that this excuse fits squarely in the Batman villain vein of leaving the superhero a ridiculous out -- Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel. The only problem is that those shows were strictly for laughs (even if I didn't realize it when I was a kid). This series, on the other hand, doesn't offer much in the way of humor, so the implausibility has to be taken as just being implausible.
One final quibble that drives me nuts even though I realize its not important. Sedrakus has an accent over the a in his name. Really? Based on what language? Do the Mogadorians use our alphabet, but need the accent so we get the pronunciation correct? And what are we supposed to make of the accent? Does it show a stress on the a, as it might in Portugese? or does it show a long vowel, as it might in Latin? Or perhaps it means a high pitched tone, as with Ekoti or Navajo? Or perhaps, as with Hungarian, it distinguishes whether the vowel should be rounded or not? My theory, it means that the writers are once again being lazy, and they thought the accent would look cool. (It also means that the writer has a macro for the guys name, because its a pain to actually insert an accent on most keyboards).
But since there is virtually no attention paid to language in this book, I'm definitely asking too much in wanting some way to pronounce a main character's name. Let's face it. We have one girl who was raised in a convent in Spain. We have another guy who grew up on his own in a deeply Hindi part of India. And we have a little girl who was raised elsewhere in Europe, including Spain, but not in England. All of them converse easily in American English, and the possibility of communication difficulties between them is not even considered. And here, the problem could be easily resolved in one of two ways: having them all speak in Lorien together, or give them all Legacies that do essentially what the Federation's Universal Translator did. But why think about this when we can turn a few thousand more Mogadorians into ash?...more
I saw this movie when it came out. I was about ten at the time, and it impressed me quite a bit. I don't think I've seen it since. Yet I can still vivI saw this movie when it came out. I was about ten at the time, and it impressed me quite a bit. I don't think I've seen it since. Yet I can still vividly remember much of it, and found myself comparing scenes in the book to my recollection of the movie. Here's one of the rare examples where the movie is better than the book, or at least my fond memories of a ten year old's impression of the movie is better.
Crichton has great ideas, but his writing is pedestrian at best, his characters lack character, and he doesn't seem to develop the ideas very much at all. I thought that was true of the dreadful Jurassic Park, and it's pretty much the case with this book as well. The situation is gripping. But the treatment of it is fairly boring.
The themes between the two books are remarkably consistent. The scientists are out of their league. Technology fails. Either there is no solution, or here, the solution is built into the problem itself. So that nothing man does makes any difference, unless its to make things much, much worse.
I was charmed by the quaintness of the super-computers used. Today, much of what they did can now be done anywhere on people's phones. But then, there is a medical diagnosis robot in this book that is still beyond the capability of any computer AI. So the book both shows how quaint the technology was, and how things that sci-fi writers envisioned in the near future are actually much harder to achieve than they thought.
I ended up kind of liking this book, but mostly I think because it took me back to my recollection of the movie and of my childhood. If I had read it without that background, I'd probably be much more harsh.
This reads like a really silly movie. It's a mash-up of space aliens, fantasy, and high-school romance and doesn't do any of them particularly well. TThis reads like a really silly movie. It's a mash-up of space aliens, fantasy, and high-school romance and doesn't do any of them particularly well. The inside cover proclaims that the book is real. So, a group of aliens left their planet maybe ten years ago and came to hide on Earth. They are hiding from another group of aliens who destroyed planet Lorien about 100 years after destroying their own planet. How did any of them travel so far so fast. The closest any of these planets could be too each other is many, many light years. Yet, the travel seems to be instantaneous. That's without even getting into the time-warping properties of traveling at near relativistic speed.
Planet Lorien is "10 times smaller" than Earth. How smaller? By diameter, by surface area, by volume? Why does this matter. If it's smaller, it also presumably has less gravity than earth. Creatures on a planet with less gravity would not have to develop as much strength in their adaptations. Yet, the Loriens are super-strong. Why??? Because any crap that the writers want to make happen in this book, they can make happen, at any time, and with no plausible explanation whatsoever. For example, there's a stupid charm at the heart of this book that makes it so the Lorien kids can only be killed off in a particular order, kind of like a game of nine-ball with aliens for object balls. At one point, the main character asks why there is this limitation, and why the charm didn't make him invulnerable. (Apparently, it took him 15 years to come up with this question.) And his know-it-all teacher tells him "Because there are limits." That's what passes for explanation in this book. How about this, create a charm that says X can't be killed until Y is dead, and then a charm on Y that says Y can't be killed until X is dead. Does the magic code for this "real" universe have error checking that would catch that?
Then there's the romance. Screenwriters deliberately write their characters without any real personality. That way, any star who signs on can play the lead. This is deliberate on the part of moviemakers, and it has to do with the economics of selling a movie. Put too much personality into any main character and you severely limit the number of actors who can play the role. Make the character a cypher, and it doesn't matter much whether the lead is played by Tom Cruise or Adam Sandler. The only excuse I can give for the almost complete lack of character given to the main leads here is that the book was written with the object of selling to the movies, and not so much as a book.
That theory would also explain the annoying and pointless first person present narrator. What's so bad about the past tense? I don't understand this new fetish for writing in the present tense. I guess the writers think it makes stuff more immediate. But to me, it just feels more artificial. And, since scripts are in the present tense, it just screams movie treatment.
From the review, it sounds like I hated this book. But I didn't. I thought it was what I said up front: a typical silly, implausible hollywood movie. And as such, its too light and breezy for me to hate. I blew through it very quickly. I thought it was fast paced, and at times it was even engaging. But I could never get drawn into it because it was all too ridiculous and inconsistent, and because it topped cliche on top of cliche. I haven't seen the movie, and the book does not make me want to rush out....more
In each successive book, Card seems to have honed in on the worst points of the last book and then used them as the focus for the new one. This one moIn each successive book, Card seems to have honed in on the worst points of the last book and then used them as the focus for the new one. This one mostly involves Ender's very serious identity crisis. He's three different people at once, and apparently has barely enough lifeforce or whatever to sustain two lives at once. So something's got to give.
In the meantime, the Lusitania fleet is still hurtling toward the poor planet, and any minute now it might utterly destroy it. One of Ender's selves is using the wishing box to hop from planet to planet to try to convince some powerful people to help stop the fleet. And he's falling in love with Wang-mu. Another of his selves is hopping from planet to planet with the wishing box, but she's trying to find the source for the descolada virus. This is the even bigger crisis, so of course Card leaves it unresolved. But if that turns into yet another sequel, its one that I will gladly miss. And Ender lies at home, dying, his hair falling out. Meanwhile, Jane is having a blast becoming a god who can now seemingly do just about anything at all.
There were a few scenes in this book that I truly enjoyed. But I got very tired of the family squabbles, the inexplicable love relationships, the very confusing and unsatisfying identity interchanges, and the sheer ponderousness of it all. When Peter finally confronts the admiral of the Lusitania fleet, it was a refreshing glimpse of how entertaining Card can be, but its also a very grim reminder of how far off the rails this whole series has gone.
After Speaker for the Dead, I thought this series had so much promise that I might even go back and finish up the Shadow books. I don't see that happening now. For others interested in this series, I would recommend reading Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Ender's Shadow, and leave it at that....more
The fleet is coming to destroy planet Lusitania! The piggies may counter by releasing the Descolada virus to destroy all humanity! No matter what EndeThe fleet is coming to destroy planet Lusitania! The piggies may counter by releasing the Descolada virus to destroy all humanity! No matter what Ender decides, an intelligent life form may be annihilated! Holy ethical dilemma, Batman! Let's talk freshman philosophy.
Speaker for the Dead was about what it is to be human. This one raises the stakes, and it's mostly about what it is to be a god. And here, Card basically goes a bit heavy handed on the Mormon theology. A true god would want to make people just like he is. In the end, we are all gods. And there's even a hint at the end of the idea that people can make it possible for their ancestors to enter the kingdom of heaven. I don't really object to this morphing of Mormon theology into sci-fi, but I did roll my eyes a couple of times.
The philosophy that really bothered me in this book was an extensive discussion of free will/determinism. We are three thousand years into the future, and these are the smartest people who ever lived, and the discussion here basically falls into the simplest trap. Valentine says that the problem with determinism, if its true, is that it leads to a lack of responsibility. That totally misses the point. If it's true, determinism is useless. It only might lead to a lack of responsibility if its false and people believe in it and act on it. If it's true, people will simply do whatever has been determined.
Even that wasn't my big issue with the book. One of the strengths of the first two books was Card's ability to get you to care some for the characters. Here, I had the feeling at times that he was working to achieve the opposite. There were times when I thought the best way to end the book would be to have the fleet receive it's orders and wipe these insufferable people out. That would still leave the insufferable people on Path, but one can't have everything, can one?
Finally, Card thoroughly writes himself into a box in this book, and I had some curiosity as to how he was going to get himself out of the box. I didn't suspect that he was going to have a physicist "invent" a pair of ruby slippers for Ender, so that all Ender would have to do is wish very hard that "There's no place like home." With these slippers we get faster than light travel, the fountain of youth, and a Star Trek style replicator without the limitations. Pretty nifty device. It makes pretty much anything come true as long as the person using it wishes hard enough for it (holds its pattern in their mind). Too bad Card didn't actually have such a device, then he could have wished for something other than a deus ex machina machine....more
After reading Ender's Game, I moved on to the Shadow/Bean series, and pretty quickly decided that Card was pretty much a hack who was getting every laAfter reading Ender's Game, I moved on to the Shadow/Bean series, and pretty quickly decided that Card was pretty much a hack who was getting every last ounce of blood out of his one good idea. I was wrong. I don't know what prompted me to pick up this book after drawing that conclusion, but I'm glad I did.
In many ways, this book is more original than Ender's Game. For the most part, that book is a re-hash of many familiar stories of the misfit in school or the military who manages to overcome his initial status and triumphs. It was very well done, but it was also pretty comfortable. Speaker for the Dead has a story in structure which was much less familiar, at least to me.
Mankind has found only one planet with intelligent life since Ender destroyed the buggers. This time, the authorities are being extra careful about how much contact is allowed with the discovered life form. So there is a human colony on the planet whose sole purpose is to study them, but only one person in the colony is allowed to have any direct contact with them. When that person gets vivisected, and staked to the ground, things heat up.
It's a very cool premise, and Card takes things in directions that I would not have expected. I especially liked the idea of the biological adaptation on the new planet, and also the idea of "Jane," who is a benign computer version of HAL from 2001, who longs to be recognized as being a person. The book works as a novel, but it is also an exploration about what it means to be human. Ultimately, I don't think its particularly profound, at least not in the basic ideas that the characters espouse, but there is some depth built into its structure, and it holds a lot of promise for the rest of this series.
My sole big complaint in this book is that Ender has become more like St. Francis of Assisi than like the Ender of the original book. In subjective time, he's only about 35 years old now. But he seems much older, and he also seems to have lost some of Ender's explosiveness and killer instinct. I don't think the character is a total miss from what Ender was in the first book, but if you had taken away then names and the references to his past history in this book, I don't think many people would have identified the adult Ender with the child....more
I think I might be done with this series. In this book and the last, a character compares something someone else did to something out of the "HistoriiI think I might be done with this series. In this book and the last, a character compares something someone else did to something out of the "Historiies." The Histories is The Lord of the Rings. It's dangerous for a writer to have a character comment on the quality of his own work. There are ways that these books are now derivative of Tolkien, but they are not good ways.
In general, the plotting, pacing, structure, characterization, dialogue, and interior monologue have all slipped drastically over the last few books. And it's getting repetitive. This malaise seems to threaten many writers of epic, serial fantasy. For the second book in a row, Stirling has noted that there was a soldier noted for long distance travel on horseback named Major Assburns. The first time I rolled my eyes. The second, I almost quit reading entirely. Last book, I complained that Stirling killed off an important character off screen. Here, he does even worse. One of the major characters of first trilogy gets killed here. We see the scene where she gets killed, but Stirling writes it in a way that makes it impossible to know what happened.
But the biggest problem I have is that Stirling ends the book with the pronouncement that the prophet of doom, Sethaz, "is coming." And I don't care. I don't care if he wins. I don't care what happens to Rudi MacKenzie or his Lucky Charms speaking clan. I had some friends in film school who said that there some movies that could be drastically improved if, at the end, space aliens came down and flew everyone away into space. That's sort of the way I feel about this series....more
Stirling has a knack for coming up with very cool premises for his books and series. He also then does good research on his premise, and thinks througStirling has a knack for coming up with very cool premises for his books and series. He also then does good research on his premise, and thinks through some very cool consequences.
And despite this, his books tend to be diverting, but mediocre. He writes the same badass characters into almost every book of his that I've read. And the stories tend to run over well trodden ground. So, despite the cool premises from one book to the next, there's a kind of sameness that seems to pervade what he does.
Here, he takes us to an ancient Martian civilization. Because of the lack of fuel and uranium, the Martian technology advanced very rapidly in the bio-sciences. But it lagged considerably in the area of combustibles. He also makes the presumption that the Martian society is pretty much like a Chinese dynastic society on a very grand scale. Lineage is worshipped over all else, and the Martians are both treacherous and hyper-rational.
The story involves the quasi bastard offspring of the Emperor, her ties to an Earthling, and the pursuit of them by vying political factions. The plot moves quickly, but is basically dull. There are several times when winks at the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies, but the wink doesn't change the fact that he's pretty much writing the same thing, and not doing it as well as the first movie (though way better than Temple of Doom or the Last Crusade).
The other aspect of this book I found off-putting was the constant use of a kind of translation of the Martian demotic language. It's basically stilted, hyper-academic English in translation. A better writer could have made the language fun, or interesting, or both. Stirling tries, but I never got with the program and I just don't think he's a good enough writer to pull tis sort of thing off.
Overall, I think this is a pretty decent complement to The Sky People. But it is very thin. I've read elsewhere that this is a loving homage to Burroughs' John Carter books. Maybe so, and that put's me at a disadvantage since I haven't read them. But if so, then I feel about this sort of the way I do about Austen's Northanger Abbey. Homage, and/or satire, should stand on its own legs, and they both suffer if the derivative pleasures are the primary ones....more
The story felt quaint and derivative. It's science fiction, but very light on the science, so SF in the same sense that Star Wars is SF. The closest SThe story felt quaint and derivative. It's science fiction, but very light on the science, so SF in the same sense that Star Wars is SF. The closest Sanderson comes to explaining a scientific principle is to say that heavier objects move slower in space than lighter ones. Thus, a fleet of starships gets slowed down by the largest ship in the fleet.
Also, in the tradition of Star Wars, we have a highly advanced technological society whose political structure seems bound up with ideas of Empire and feudalism that come from the middle ages. It's always been a puzzle to me why the social structures always seem to revert in these societies.
The other book that this reminded me of was Ender's Game. Suppose Peter Wiggin had been accepted into the acadamy, saved the Empire, and then gone on to pursue his dream of total domination. And then suppose that his brother, Andrew, was the only one in the universe with a hope of stopping him. Now add into the mix that Andrew has been a failure all his life. Now substitute Varion and Dennison for Peter and Andrew, and that's what this felt like to me. It was vamping in a shallow way on stuff I've seen before.
The writing was capable but not particularly inspired. The characters were not well rounded at all. And the ending, which is meant as a big pay-off, left me feeling a bit flat. This wasn't particularly bad, but I expect more from Sanderson, even out of his genre....more
"Astray" is the operative word here. Loup Garron is back, but for most of this book she lacks any direction. There's lots going on here, but it's not"Astray" is the operative word here. Loup Garron is back, but for most of this book she lacks any direction. There's lots going on here, but it's not going anywhere. Having escaped from Gitmo, I mean Outpost, Loup and Pilar have some fun on the beach in Mexico, get recruited for bodyguard training and pack off to Scotland. Then do security for a fashion designer, for a mafia family in Sicily, for the bratty daughter of a Swiss banker in Geneva, and for a Pop band in Australia and Japan.
There's lots of potential for great stuff here, but for some reason it all falls a bit flatter than the first book did. For the most part, there is an incident, our heroines triumph, and then they declare how hot they are for each other and say that they are going to have amazing sex together and the chapter ends. Beforehand, I would not have said that it was possible for me to grow tired of lesbian mutant werewolf sex, but somehow Carey managed to pull that off.
The last third of the book begins to have some direction, when Loup decides to return to America to testify about Gitmo/Outpost, and to rescue her former sparring partner from being held hostage in a swanky Vegas casino called The Hellfire Club. But even this sort of just fizzles, as everything comes much to easily to Loup and Pilar, and this ease short-circuits any real drama that might develop.
I'm not sure what happened here. The book feels like the wrong length. It could have made for a great short story. It could have been really compelling if Carey had put some more work into the situations and made it three or four times as long. As it is, the supporting characters seem kind of thin. Loup and Pilar seem less well developed than they were in the first book, and the way the book is structured left me wanting either less or more.
Having said all that, I still like the characters in this book, and the basic idea. I thought the treatment of the pop band Kate was lots of fun. It was just a step down from the first book. ...more
A group of folk musicians find themselves in a bar. The city the bar is in gets nuked, but somehow the bar jumps to another city in another time and pA group of folk musicians find themselves in a bar. The city the bar is in gets nuked, but somehow the bar jumps to another city in another time and place in the galaxy. Sometime later, the new city is nuked again. Who is doing this, and why? And what does it have to do with great cooking, traditional music, the Grateful Dead, and dysfunctional romantic relationships? That's what Cowboy Feng's is about, and fortunately for me, almost all of Brust's bizarre obsessions align fairly nicely with mine, so I thought this was alot of fun. The fact that Brust weaves all of this into a traditional Western plot only makes it better.
I will call foul on a couple of points. At one point he talks about a computer program falling back into Bach's seventh sonata after failing at an improvisation in G. There is no such thing. Also, he writes brilliantly about what it's like to play in a quasi-improvisational band, but he is not quite so good when he tries to give detail about guitar or banjo playing. Drums are his thing, and I had the distinct impression at times that he was in a bit over his head when trying to describe other instruments. His writing about food is first rate. There's a description here of making scrambled eggs that had me wanting to go to Feng's and get in on the Breakfast. And then there's the ending, which didn't work for me. It wrapped things up nicely, but I didn't buy it. (view spoiler)[The revelation of Feng didn't work for me. I thought the idea was great, but I didn't buy that this guy from the future had such feelings of longing and loss for a long dead Earth that he barely knew. If that was all, I might be OK, but I also didn't buy his knowledge of lots and lots of long dead traditional Earth music. The music is so central to the character, and I just don't see how it worked, how Feng, as Billy, could know all the music that he did. So the end felt like a cheat to me, and almost spoiled what I otherwise thought was a very fun book. (hide spoiler)]
This book is only the second non-Dragaera book I've read of Brust's, and even here I'm not so sure. It's entirely possible that this book is, in Brust's twisted mind, a very ancient history of Dragaera, and that Feng's people ultimately go on to found the Dragaeran world. But that's pure speculation on my part. I like to think that Brust has been working, all along, on a very, very big picture for the world that he created.
It's been a while since I have read any Brust, and I had sort of forgotten how much fun he can be.
This book moved along at a pretty good clip. It was easy to read and kind of entertaining. I like Bean. So it was OK.
Except that it was really prettyThis book moved along at a pretty good clip. It was easy to read and kind of entertaining. I like Bean. So it was OK.
Except that it was really pretty terrible. All the Battle School kids are back on earth and they are basically shunted away as being "just" children. That means that all the kids who won the war for mankind's survival now have subordinate roles. And that's just fine.
But then there's Achilles. He got into Battle School, and was there for a couple of weeks. He got kicked out and sent to a mental hospital because he has this slight problem that he's a sociopathic serial killer. So naturally, first Russia and then India and then presumably China put him near the top of their power structure and allow him to get them into major wars and to negotiate critical non-aggression treaties. The adults thus all trust the proven sociopathic killer with no track record of competence, while they all seem to mistrust the Battle School vets?
Somehow, in his incredibly annoying afterward, Card seems to justify all this by the examples of other great men like Alexander and Napoleon. (I may have Card's position wrong. I couldn't bear to do anything but slightly skim this afterward. It read sort of like the end of War and Peace. Mercifully not as long, but also seemingly devoid of content. For me, all it showed is that perhaps Card is even more arrogant than his main characters.) But Alexander was the son of Philip of Macedon, and the student of Aristotle. There's a reason he was leading armies. Napoleon may be a better example, but he at least proved himself in some engagements. By contrast, Achilles sole claim to fame was that he was thrown out of Battle School and into a mental hospital.
Finally, this thing takes place at least 100 years in the future. There's space travel, communication faster than the speed of light, etc... It's supposed to be science fiction. But for all practical purposes, there's no science fiction in it at all. Here, I give Card a pass, because it's pretty clear that he's just not interested. And yet, I still have a problem with it. The Battle School environment in Ender's Game and in Ender's Shadow is pretty cool. But in terms of how things work, it's really hard to square that environment with the state of technology here on Earth, which is pretty much straight from the mid-nineties. And it's also troublesome because they do have instant communication, not restricted by the speed of light. Thus, if Ender could command the fleet in the fight against the Formics, then he and Valentine could also at least have some contact or input into the Earth's events. Instead, its just ignored.
Yeah, this book was OK, but I'm no longer excited to continue the series. Maybe someday....more