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.
Everyone knows how sad it is to realize that your favorite series has jumped the shark. There's always that let-down when you finish a novel, add it tEveryone knows how sad it is to realize that your favorite series has jumped the shark. There's always that let-down when you finish a novel, add it to your stack of previous entries, and suddenly feel that you can't remember a single thing you just read. And if it's bad when it happens to a good series, it's even worse when it happens to one that's only 'okay'.
The Freedom trilogy worked fairly well. It appropriately used the science fiction background of isolated planets and wild interspecies mixing to follow a progression from "Surviving" to "Thriving". Over the course of three books, there was an resolution of main conflicts and some basic character plots. It didn't have much to recommend it, but it worked. "Freedom's Ransom" seems to weakly latch on to this self-contained trilogy, borrowing its characters and setting for a fairly uninteresting and unconnected novel. The characters don't advance, the conflicts aren't interesting, and the writing itself doesn't really stand out.
This wouldn't be a problem if Freedom's Ransom was simply a novel that didn't work out. The point is that it's even worse: it's a parasite fiction, that sucks the life out of what might otherwise have been a decent series....more
Half-rate Hollywood reproductions aside, this short story is one of the staples of great science fiction... that simply had to be written, sooner or lHalf-rate Hollywood reproductions aside, this short story is one of the staples of great science fiction... that simply had to be written, sooner or later.
The Bicentennial Man is a very simple, almost droll story: in the near future, a robot finds itself instilled with the urge to become human, and lives through 200 years of slight modifications to himself while following this goal.
I've always said that good science fiction uses the unusual situations to comment on the human condition, and I couldn't ask for a better example than this story. The questions raised by the story are explicit and obvious: at what point is something human? If a machine can talk and maintain a conversation... is it human? What if it starts wearing clothes, or changes its body so it can digest and live off of organic food. NOW is it human?
The entire point of the Bicentennial Man is to present the reader with a smooth gradation from obviously-not-human to obviously-human, and let the reader decide for himself at which point this machination "counts". Although the story is lacking somewhat in artistry and presentation, it is just this kind of simplicity that lets the reader enjoy it for what it is: an examination of what it means to be human....more
Alright, alright, of course this novel can't be so shallowly summarized, and if anything it is certainly a tribute to the workIt's 1984... FOR WOMEN!
Alright, alright, of course this novel can't be so shallowly summarized, and if anything it is certainly a tribute to the work that it manages to rise above such a simple description. The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian story of a woman (known only to the reader as 'Offred', a melding of 'of' and 'Fred') living in the young dystopian 'Republic of Gilead'. The Republic is an ultra religious hierarchal totalitarian government, having risen from the chaos of war and a recent plague of infertility among the women of earth. Under the Republic, everyone is consolidated under the same Christian religion, and the life of every woman is determined a priori based on her capabilities, but especially on her fertility.
Offred is sent to act as the 'handmaid' in an officials house... that is, she is required to bear the children for the wife of the house. As the story progresses, recounting Offred's relationship to various women and men she encounters, the reader is impressed by how absolutely every aspect of Offred's life is determined by the fact that she is a woman, and more importantly, a fertile woman. This book could certainly be described as feminist literature, but it is not simply a sob story bewailing the tragedy of male dominance. This is feminism for all to learn from and experience: it's a study of what precisely it means to be a woman, and how sexism is not simply a short-sighted aspect of our ancestor's times, but a deep and entangling web of mirrors and magnifying glasses. Everyone, even Offred herself, sees Offred only as an extension of her gender, and as she is forced by circumstance and by dogma to either obey or disobey orders, she must try to balance herself between her own sexual identity and the constant threat of death from the government.
The only complaint I have about the book is that, while the prose is absolutely riveting, the plots and character arches don't all build to nice climaxes and resolutions. This is my typical opinion of Margaret Atwood's style, however, and cannot be used as an excuse to miss out on this important dystopian literature....more
This is one of my favorite non-fiction books. I have always had an interest in relativistic physics, but never cared for all that math that they madeThis is one of my favorite non-fiction books. I have always had an interest in relativistic physics, but never cared for all that math that they made us run the numbers through in High School and at college. The great part about this book is that it explains relativity as easily as if you were showing a child how to tie his shoes. You see... just find a space ship, pilot it close to the speed of light, and voila, time slows down! The book gently guides the reader starting at the very basics of physics, and then showing step-by-step how it is simple to conclude (given certain experiments) that time is relative, that gravity bends space-time, that moving faster causes an object to gain mass, that relativistic speeds induce relativistic shortening in the direction of travel, etc. I read this book when I was thirteen years old, and I would recommend it to people even younger who are interested in the subject. Deeper scientific minds might find the slowed explanations a little beneath them, but would benefit from the reading nonetheless!...more
Before I review "The Reader", I need to review a small part of the excellent graphic novel "Maus".
One of the best moments in "Maus" (a retelling of tBefore I review "The Reader", I need to review a small part of the excellent graphic novel "Maus".
One of the best moments in "Maus" (a retelling of the sufferings of a Jewish family) comes when the author breaks the fourth wall and answers some pre-supposed questions from the reader. One of these questions is an often unspoken obvious point: the Holocaust and all the suffering caused by it has been addressed in book after book, story after story, until it feels as if any addition is simply 'watering down' the importance. The author's response to this criticism is that he doesn't care what the reading public thinks; he writes his story because there is nothing else to be done.
This is where "The Reader" leaves an impression: that even with the hundreds of holocaust stories that we've heard and loved, there is still more to tell.
"The Reader" describes and details the complicated relationship between two characters, and how it changes over time. It begins with a secret and taboo affair between an older woman and a 15-year-old boy, and progresses through the changes they undergo against the backdrop of post-World War II Germany. Central to their relationship (and to later events of the book) is the act of reading, as the pair get in the habit of the boy reading aloud to the woman. It's an intimate and familiar action, and in its own way, "The Reader" is actually a commentary on reading and writing itself, and on the relationship between author and reader. As one reads through it, one cannot help but feel that the book is really about themselves.
In the strictest sense, this is not a holocaust story: the emphasis here is not on the sufferings of the innocents under the Nazi regime, but rather on new moral landscape that is left on the German people afterwards. The book addresses themes of blame and moral responsibility, and does so with excellent twists in character and plot. The writing slips a little into heavy-handedness, but with such important subject matter can hardly be blamed. All in all a very worthy read....more
"Alas, Babylon" is solid fare in the post-apocalyptic setting, and is an excellent introduction to the genre. Although lacking in plot and characteriz"Alas, Babylon" is solid fare in the post-apocalyptic setting, and is an excellent introduction to the genre. Although lacking in plot and characterization, "Alas, Babylon" picks one area and excels in it: the detailed and personal description of life in a small town after a nuclear holocaust.
If post-apocalyptic literature were a cake, this book would be the flour: nothing particularly special, but an honest and thorough presentation. It follows the community from the initial warnings, to the sudden horror of coping with a dying world, to the different struggles that develop as the town survives its first few months.
If you're already a post-apocalyptic fan, you won't find anything particularly special in this book, but it's still a decent read. If you're interested in testing out the genre, this book is a nice, safe introduction to what post-apocalyptic fiction is all a...more
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
When I was younger, I used to think that as a general rule, good books did not make good movies, and vice versa. Since then I've gotten a better feelWhen I was younger, I used to think that as a general rule, good books did not make good movies, and vice versa. Since then I've gotten a better feel for the uneasy relationship between these two forms, but even with the occasional book-movie pair that works well, there are still hundreds of hideous "adaptations" that simply seem to miss the point.
But the relationship of BOTH of these media to video games is still, at the present time, an awful, disgusting heap of misfires and mistranslations. Into this heap I put "The Book of D'ni".
Here's the simple cut: 'Myst' and 'Riven' are very good computer games. Their strength lies in their visuals and locations that they present. But a solitude-puzzle game simply can't rely very much on story, characters, dialogue, etc. In other words, a video game's strengths are nearly absent in a novel, and vice versa.
What's the result? I can't remember the characters at all, in The Book of D'ni. The language and plot were fairly forgettable, and in the rare times when a visual aspect is described, the only thing it made me think was "I'd like to see this in a video game."
I hear tell that the first book in the Myst series is good, and maybe I should give that book a try....more
I've already commented on this series as a whole, but this book marks a turning point.
By the time the reader has reached this book, the formula is setI've already commented on this series as a whole, but this book marks a turning point.
By the time the reader has reached this book, the formula is set in stone. Drizzt fights and wins, then fights and wins again. The villain never dies, the supporting characters make brief quips, and nobody but nobody gets one single hint of development as a human character (except for Drizzt, who stopped developing several books ago).
Appropriate for young children, and possibly as a guilty pleasure. Don't get me wrong: I have fond memories of cuddling up with this book and a mug of hot chocolate. It's just... I wouldn't read it again....more
This beginning to the Icewind Dale trilogy is a guilty pleasure at best. I fully admit that I've read eight books in the entire Drizzt series, and thaThis beginning to the Icewind Dale trilogy is a guilty pleasure at best. I fully admit that I've read eight books in the entire Drizzt series, and that this kind of novel is just the thing I need to curl up with sometimes. But the sad truth is that it is books like this one that, in my opinion, sometimes give fantasy a bad name. Mr. Salvatore is undoubtedly more talented in writing than the format of these books might suggest (I'm sure he's writing for a fairly young audience), and the success of the series shows its popularity, but with only decent writing, only one really fleshed-out character, and plot that feels like watered-down and sugared-up Tolkien (and yes, the rip-offs are many), this book just isn't really something worth reading. Drizzt, the drow (dark elf), is a classic romantic character, who is just too noble to ever show any weakness, and too good with his scimitars to ever be beaten by anything. As much as I love that idea (I plan to go as Drizzt next Halloween), it is puddle-deep. The latter Dark Elf trilogy is better and deeper writing, although still not quite literary. My suggestion? Try the Dark Elf trilogy. If it's too juvenile for you, then the Crystal Shard will be too, by bounds....more
A solid, if not particularly special entry in the fantasy genre.
Mistborn takes the traditional fantasy archtype (the lone hero who is destined to saveA solid, if not particularly special entry in the fantasy genre.
Mistborn takes the traditional fantasy archtype (the lone hero who is destined to save the world) and turns it on its head. In the world of Mistborn, that hero has come and gone, tried and failed, and now the world is officially ruled by evil.
It's a good twist, and one that is used well as the book continues. When the plot develops, the reader discovers that the story is actually a heist story, which further makes the setup unique. We're not watching the one true hero boldly face off against the evil overlord... we're watching a gang of gentlemanly thieves hope to rob him instead.
The strong and weak point of Mistborn is that it's not particularly literary. The characters are fleshed out, but not intently. The scenes and world are described... but not with relish. Altogether the book feels almost as if it is a cheap fantasy novel that was then edited to hide this fact. We still get the lonely orphan who discovers that (s)he is, in fact, one of the most powerful people in the world. We still get an ominous but mostly unseen evil overlord who rules with an iron fist. And in the end, the true plot of the story still turns out to be 'save the entire world'. The strength of Mistborn is that it nicely pads each of these elements to make them seem relatively fresh, but it can't quite escape the inherent cheapness of their consequences.
The magic system in Mistborn is strong and well presented. Even though the scenes where the system is taught verge on butler-and-maiding ("Now, little orphan, let me explain in detail how magic works..."), they are encorporated well into the story. A strict magic system is hard to pull off, and this one was enjoyable enough to make it stand out in the story.
Mistborn is fairly shallow for literature, but it's deeper than your average fantasy. If it were a movie, I would say it was 'worth watching once'....more
Quite possibly Well's best, and in my opinion one of the great underrated books of science fiction (yes, that's right: literally significant science Quite possibly Well's best, and in my opinion one of the great underrated books of science fiction (yes, that's right: literally significant science fiction). In all honestly, I don't understand why this book isn't a standard in English classes. Even if Wells' language is not overly stunning (and it is at least above average in this book), this book should receive high recognition for the mere fact that it transcends the arguable shallowness of invisible men, giant rats and falling comets into the deep and meaningful world of what it means to be a member of mankind.
"The Island of Dr. Moreau" tells the story of a man stranded on a hidden island, where an eccentric naturalist has developed a method of, well, 'improving' animals to the point where they were almost human. The 'manimals' can speak, walk upright, and wear clothing, and yet consistently maintain aspects of what they truly are. In investigating what it means to be a human, Wells subtly comments on religion, science, language, culture, and social identity. The symbolism is obvious, but well investigated, and in the meantime the narrative is strung together with enough to keep a reader interested through to the end.
Why isn't this book more well known? Are people too turned-off by outlandish turn-of-the-century shock tactics (like time machines and martians) to realize the worth of a high-quality application of the science fiction genre? Let me know!...more