We all have a weak spot in our literary preferences, and I have a particular one for post-apocalyptic settinA dismal and hugely overrated experience.
We all have a weak spot in our literary preferences, and I have a particular one for post-apocalyptic settings. But while most 'PA' stories smartly take advantage of the thrills found in survivalism and violent conflict, I'm a real sucker for the focus on rebuilding, on the need for organization and structure, and the intricate task of reintroducing it into the world. So I thought I would enjoy "The Girl Who Owned A City", which I'd heard focused on this idea.
Sadly, what I got was something of a mess. The basic premise and structure showed the right idea: Lisa, a 10-year-old girl, is a survivor of a plague which has wiped out the entire adult population of the earth. The novel follows her progression 'from survivor to savior' as she expands her influence via her ingenuity and hard work.
The tone of the story is pretty disjointed, to the point where it's quite the guessing game to figure out what age group this story is intended for. For example, the story takes place in a world where literally every child has just lost both of their parents... but amazingly, not a single character ever seems to mourn the loss of their mother or father, and no mention of dead bodies is made. Or take another case: the novel seems explicitly survivalist, with a strong focus on the children forming militias, arming themselves with guns, setting deadly booby-traps, training attack dogs, and yet there never seems to be a sense of fright or danger: even in supposed clashes with gangs and armies, most injuries are 'off stage' and amount to minor scratches.
The writing is no better. Even with an unnecessarily omniscient narrator who jumps between different points of view, characters have essentially no personalities or even physical traits, only slight differences of opinions. They explicitly state their thoughts and feelings in drab complete sentences and explanatory arguments. Villains aren't nasty, threatening, or intimidating: they simply say what they want, and it happens to contradict what the main character wants. Imagine the Big Bad Wolf simply being a dog who comes up to the pigs and says "I want to eat you. I'm going to try to eat you," while the pigs respond with "No, don't eat us. We don't want you to eat us!"
Mr. Nelson was explicit in his goal of translating the values of Objectivism in terms simple enough for children to understand, and while I actually have no beef with this in itself, in the book this translates to characters simply stating 'morals' outright at different points in the story. It gives the hideous impression that while being written, the value of this book was seen chiefly in its ability to transmit a philosophy, rather than engage or entertain. Some might say that in this sense Mr. Nelson follows Mrs. Rand's example.
The only good part of this book is the blurb on the cover, which compares it to Lord Of The Flies. This line made me laugh and laugh.
Good book reviewers should have the stamina to give unbiased reviews of books with opposing ideologies, but this 'Apologetics 101' text is disappointiGood book reviewers should have the stamina to give unbiased reviews of books with opposing ideologies, but this 'Apologetics 101' text is disappointing enough that I feel no guilt in giving it a low rating. The simple truth is that "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" tries to bite off much more than it can chew by attempting to travel literally from the basic laws of logic down to a particular brand of Trinitarian Evangelical Christianity, leaving globbing puddles of naivety in its wake. Entire schools of philosophy are laughed away with a paragraph or two. The life work of today's best modern scientists are blissfully hand-waved away by simply calling them "silly". At each step, the authors treat their own conclusions as obvious and unassailable, while making straightforward logical fallacies.
As an atheist reading this book, at first I was confused by this attitude. Could these authors seriously think that they had refuted Stephen Hawking's work simply because he uses the phrase 'imaginary time'? Could they honestly claim to have found a one-paragraph dismissal of Kant's Categorical Imperative and Hume's attack on miracles? Did they really think that their single argument for an early dating of the Gospel of Luke was enough to reject the consensus of biblical scholars? Were the authors unaware that entire books had been written on each of these subjects?
But then I realized what was going on: this book is not written for rationalists. This book is written for the believer, for the person who wants some quick, comforting, one-line responses to back up the beliefs that they've been brought up with. This is what I found so disappoint about the book: it's not meant to be engaging, but simply comforting and reassuring. This is not kind of book I choose to read.
The only redeeming value in this book is that it gives some genuinely interesting information and arguments in its section on the reliability of the New Testament. For that, I give it two stars....more
A weaker and less fulfilling follow-up to George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, A Clash Of Kings reaps the benefits of the strong start to the seriesA weaker and less fulfilling follow-up to George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, A Clash Of Kings reaps the benefits of the strong start to the series by riding the wave of plotlines and characters created by its fast-moving predecessor. I suppose readers can't complain too much about this: that's why they bought the book, after all, to see the long story arc continued and kept simmering. However, whereas the first book was able to keep focus in its plot-storm by centering the conflict on Eddard Stark's character and the precarious tension behind the great Iron Throne, in A Clash of Kings the separate conflicts feel more like separate stories (and that is not a good thing). Instead of a threatened throne, we have five would-be-kings vying for the crown. Instead of a unified family suffering through attacks and divisions, we have mostly separated siblings each contending with their own troubles, but for the most part not reaching any resolutions by the book's end. Indeed, most of the plot lines merely continue, without any one holding a central stabilizing spot, and only maybe half of them growing interesting conflicts (far too late into the book) and finally achieving one or two resolutions.
For me, at least, that's not enough. I can't help but feel that even if a book is simply one book in a series, it should have some reason to be set apart in its printing, other than simple 'number of chapters'. Epic fantasy authors tend to do not be concerned too much about all that intra-book structure nonsense because, after all, Tolkien essentially just chopped his epic into three printings, right?
But for all this bickering, I simply can't complain too much. Although many characters (like Catelyn, Sansa, and Jon) simply 'survive for 600 pages' in this book, others undergo appreciable changes and growths. Tyrion Lannister, a fan favorite, is lovingly raised in importance, and his plotline involving his attempt to control and defend the capitol of King's Landing almost gives the book its well-needed backbone. An excellent sideplot centering on Theon Greyjoy makes him the most interesting character in the book. Through all this, Martin's strong prose and solid dialogue keep the reading from ever being a chore.
I generally don't like books whose main purpose is to bridge the gap between what came before and what will come after, and A Clash of Kings certainly seems to be more about developing a plot (rather than actually having a plot). But the book is strong enough that it kept up my interest and excitement in the story, and if its job was to get me to book three in the series, it fulfilled its purpose admirably.
Overrated, overvalued, pretentious, and simply not enjoyable. The Man in the High Castle is one of the earliest and most well known examples of alternOverrated, overvalued, pretentious, and simply not enjoyable. The Man in the High Castle is one of the earliest and most well known examples of alternative history fiction, and I can't help but feel that its experimental structure and raw novelty of alternative world-building made it accidentally hailed as a masterpiece when it was first released.
Now the book has started slipping into anonymity, and it deserves to.
It came as no surprise to me to learn, after reading the book, that the plot elements and structure of the novel had literally been determined by randomization. This alone isn't necessarily a bad thing in a book, but The Man in the High Castle simply doesn't have any of the strong points that would justify or make use of this experimental writing technique. The story is literally pointless, and its role in the novel is unsettled. For example, partway through the book there are a quick series of violent character deaths, but the motivations behind the killers are entirely undeveloped. Is the reader supposed to be concerned for the safety of the characters? Is the book a slow-moving character study? Or a tense political spy-thriller? Who cares?
A rambling, aimless plot might be excused if The Man in the High Castle had good characters or language, but it simply fails in these respects. Since the plot is random, character development is entirely haphazard and uninteresting. Other people's reviews for this novel latch on to a single redeeming quality: thematic development. The themes in the book are decently engaging (combining the genre of alternative history with a strong exploration of what it means to be 'true' or 'genuine'), but they are laid out in the laziest and most boring way possible: by characters sitting in chairs and expounding (either mentally or aloud) their views.
That Philip K. Dick is a landmark author in science fiction history is not arguable, but this book is, appropriately, not the shiny gemstone it appears to be. ...more
The first two thirds of this book are from a four-star novel. The last third is from a two-star novel. I suppose it'll have to settle for a three starThe first two thirds of this book are from a four-star novel. The last third is from a two-star novel. I suppose it'll have to settle for a three star rating.
Way Station has a comfortable, enticing premise that bodes well when the reader begins reading: in a small town hidden away in the boondocks, a single, isolated log cabin has been selected as a half-way one-man way station on an inter-galactic transportation network. Enoch Wallace, a humble former Civil War soldier, has been granted extreme longevity in exchange for his simple services in keeping the station running while keeping the existence of the station an absolute secret. While the rest of the world continues to progress technologically and in ignorance, Enoch has his eyes opened wide to the wonders of space, receiving a constant stream of otherworldly visitors.
These opening descriptive sections are a perfect application of good science fiction writing: Enoch is a simple man cast against a cosmic backdrop, continuously awestruck by his power and unique position, humbly acting as the sole representative of earth to an intergalactic megaculture. He finds simple joys in meeting and talking to his visitors, and the reader is treated to a heartwarming view of aliens as gentle fireside companions. However, Enoch's thrilling post comes at a price: the isolation of secrecy and the unfathomable weight of representing his entire planet are hard burdens for Enoch to bear, and they develop nicely as the story progresses.
The plot does start off very slowly and take some time to get rolling, but since the novel has a very leisurely, backwoods feel, this isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. Rather, the problem comes near the end of the story, when the author suddenly ramps up the action and tosses in a quick plotline involving (you guessed it) the salvation of the entire galaxy. This was a bitter disappointment to me. I was so enjoying the pleasant mix of homespun country simplicity with the wonders of outer space that to suddenly make the story a standard sci-fi adventure seemed very out of place. It feels as if somewhere in the production process was a wealthy man chomping on a cigar, bored to tears by all the character development and interesting themes, demanding that the ending somehow turn Enoch into a hero (and incorporate laser guns if possible, because that's what the public wants these days!)
Way Station, some day you'll enter public domain, and when you do, I might just rewrite your final chapters to give you the ending you deserve....more
Short, clear, straightforward, entertaining, charming, endearing, simple... all these words describe both this book and its main character (Winnie theShort, clear, straightforward, entertaining, charming, endearing, simple... all these words describe both this book and its main character (Winnie the Pooh). Who would've thought that an introduction to Taoist philosophy could be such light, friendly, cheerful reading?...more
When studying any form of art, whether visual, musical, or literary, you will always be able to identify those examples which stand out as pioneers anWhen studying any form of art, whether visual, musical, or literary, you will always be able to identify those examples which stand out as pioneers and important 'founding documents' of specific movements, but which don't represent the best of the genre. When viewed in hindsight and recognized as the breakthroughs that they were, these titles can be given more credit than their due. This is precisely the case with The Dark Knight Returns.
Perhaps more than any other comic book, The Dark Knight Returns represents the end of the 'Bronze Age' of comics, and the beginning of the modern age, descriptions of which center around two over-used but fitting adjectives: 'darker' and 'grittier'. This was the change over from comic books being ultra-colorful sugar rushes of leotard clad supermodels towards being a more adult and edgy medium that would give us masterpieces like 'Sandman' and 'Watchmen', and there's no better way to show the transition than with that of everyone's favorite superhero, The Batman.
The Dark Knight Returns is not your grandma's Batman adventure. In this incarnation, Batman is old. Batman is retired. Batman is cranky, stubborn, rusty, and a little schizophrenic. But he's still Batman, and after years of being out of service, he begins once more to roam the streets of Gotham late at night and take on evildoers. Every aspect of this comic book reflects the darker tone, most obviously in the artwork, but also in the moral ambivalence of several characters, including Batman himself. Fighting against some new and some old foes, The Dark Knight is pressed up against his own extreme moral code and finds himself crossing the line now and then. It's a terrifying aspect, both for him and for the reader, and in a very real sense it's a deconstruction of the superhero figure.
Nonetheless, with all this to recommend it, The Dark Knight Returns simply can't compete with the better titles of the modern comic book age. It lacks the pure character studies of Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, and still remains more focused on the adolescent thrill of gunfights and batstunts than the exciting moral dilemmas and explorations. This will always be a landmark comic book, and should be read for that reason alone, but that doesn't make it a great comic book....more
I can still remember vividly the first time (and currently the only time) that I ever heard a recitation of Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl'. It was at a comfoI can still remember vividly the first time (and currently the only time) that I ever heard a recitation of Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl'. It was at a comfortable New Music salon concert, a monthly get-together hosted by a professor of composition at my university. The night had been filled with improvisational new music, sound sculptures, and poetry recitations, and around the three-fourths mark, one of my music professors had humbly sat down in a comfortable chair in front of the small audience and read aloud 'Howl'. I could never forget the experience. Twenty minutes of endearing, enticing, and shocking poetry, seeming to cover the entire range of human emotions in a way that I honestly had not experienced before.
'Howl' was written by a classically struggling and suffering young poet in the late nineteen fifties. Following a unique four-part structure and depending on breath patterns rather than rhyming to give musicality to the poem, it is meant to be a mourning eulogy, primarily for the author's personal acquaintances, but more broadly for the state of society as a whole. Those who read the poem and enjoy it might benefit from an annotated version which explains all the obscure references which Ginsberg includes, but I personally find the poem stands on its own even if to the common listener.
It's a good poem. It's an important poem. It's a long poem. And you should read it....more