Fair warning, this is going to be miles away from an objective review.
This is the book where it really hit me that Terry Pratchett's gone. I didn't stFair warning, this is going to be miles away from an objective review.
This is the book where it really hit me that Terry Pratchett's gone. I didn't start reading Pratchett until a few years ago, so I wasn't yet up to the more recent installments when he died. I saw friends dealing with his death and could empathize, but it never really hit me that hard. I knew I liked his writing style, and I'd been eating through his novels, but there was so much left to go that I never really had to feel his absence.
I remember when I found out Kurt Vonnegut had died, and how that hit me harder than I was expecting. Vonnegut had gotten old enough to where it seemed foregone that all the fiction he was going to write was already out there, so I'd already processed not having anything new from one of the first contemporary authors I really loved. That didn't stop him from being goddamn charming in the sporadic interview, though, which meant I kept holding out hope I'd run into him and some point and get to have a conversation. Knowing that opportunity was gone was the thing that hit me.
Moving Pictures was the moment I realized how much I wish I'd had a chance to share a drink and a conversation with Terry Pratchett, and that's when the fact he's gone really hit me. It would have been such a treat to hear live the wit I've been enjoying in these books and to pick the brain of someone whose writing is so consistently enjoyable for me. In true nerd fashion, though, I think the one thing I might have most wanted to do was correct him.
In this few hundred page skewering of golden age Hollywood, as the membrane of reality starts sprouting holes, Victor thinks "Supposing there was somewhere reality was a little thinner than usual? And supposing you did something there that weakened reality even more. Books wouldn't do it. Even ordinary theater wouldn't do it, because in your heart you knew it was just people in funny clothes on a stage. But Holy Wood went straight from the eye into the brain. In your heart you thought it was real." That is something that movies can do, for sure. It's the reason I still bother going to movie theaters. The right setting helps break up reality for those couple hours you're there.
The thing I'd correct Sir Pratchett on is that books can't do it. Bullshit. Books go straight through the eye and into the brain, and can do a lot more with a limited budget. The best ones feel absolutely real and are filled with places you can imagine walking through populated with characters you can imagine an entire conversation with. And as silly as the Discworld can be at times, it's that kind of place to me, and Pratchett had that kind of magic.
I imagine when I get to some of his last works (which seems a foregone conclusion at this point, don't think I can leave any page unturned) I imagine I'll better understand the sad lament of friends who were reading the most recent books and seeing that things were slipping. The Alzheimer's hadn't won, but it was hard to think it wasn't making an impact on his work. And when I do I'm sure I'll remember how it felt to finish Moving Pictures and remember that this author I'd come to love was gone, and I won't get a chance to give the man a hug or handshake and say thanks, and try to buy him a drink....more
In abstract this is a plot that should seem way more familiar than it did. A world where agro-business tips everyone into a kind of food Armageddon frIn abstract this is a plot that should seem way more familiar than it did. A world where agro-business tips everyone into a kind of food Armageddon from genetic modification sounds like the kind of thing you'd read on an Anti-Monsanto message board or something. Except the execution of that idea, the depth of the Thailand Bacigalupi writes here, the characters within it, and the way the story falls together make it something really special. There's a whole lot of post-colonial feel to this one, to the point that I'm having flashbacks to Edward Said articles I read in undergrad and can feel my brain laying out a way to dig into this story and the way it deals with other-ness and hybrid identities. But don't let my English Major diversion put you off, this is a great read and well worth the time....more
I'm of two minds with this story, which on the whole I quite enjoyed. On the one hand, it hits a lot of points that always work for me: East-Asian hisI'm of two minds with this story, which on the whole I quite enjoyed. On the one hand, it hits a lot of points that always work for me: East-Asian historical inspiration (really, any non-Western European historical inspiration is something I love to see, but always a soft spot for East Asia); a strong mix of political, martial, and cultural story threads; and the kind of "epic scope" (not to abuse the term) that actually feels earned with a good mix of different characters who don't act just to move their pieces into plot-dictated positions. I've no doubt I'll be following the rest of Liu's work in this series, and enjoying it immensely.
That said, I've been stewing on what about this book felt off. There's a strong cynical thread to it that I'm not always fond of, sure, but it's far worse in something like A Song of Ice and Fire and I still love those books. Cynical storytelling alone isn't enough to sour me, and frankly there's a good deal of optimism in this book as well that sets it apart from other, bleaker fare in the genre. I enjoyed the cast which felt like it was really the right size, and willing to expand and contract as the story dictated. Having a handful of strong characters take perspective helps draw out the point where the endgame of the plot comes into focus, and while you can make some informed guesses about which characters will survive and which won't it never felt overly telegraphed, to me. That's a tricky thing to pull off, and Liu does it well.
Really I think my biggest complaint is the pacing. As much as I enjoyed this book it could feel rushed, at times, with some of that cast of characters whipping through major development in a short chapter to get the work done so the story can move on to the next point. To be sure, it's preferable to the slog that some stories can find themselves in, particularly with a large cast like this, but a lot of times these seismic changes in the world of the story seemed to happen to frequently to ever have as much impact as they could have. Yes, I realize it's a big mad to ask a 600 page novel to take it's time a bit more, but I still would have liked to spend a little more time with some of these characters and the changes in the world Liu created.
All of which is to say, I'm really picking a nit here more than anything, because this was a great read and a surprisingly quick one for a book this size. Well worth the read, and looking forward to the rest of the series....more
If I were to try and describe Neverwhere's parts to you, one at a time, you would get the wrong impression. Yes, it has a couple of villains who are wIf I were to try and describe Neverwhere's parts to you, one at a time, you would get the wrong impression. Yes, it has a couple of villains who are working on behalf of their mysterious employer. Yep, there's the outsider who mistakenly falls into a world he didn't know was right beneath his nose. And there are some of your standard "Mad hermit in the forest" types that wind up guiding him along the way in drips and drabs. There's the love interest/heroine, some folks are not what they seem (for better or worse), and even a bit of the old everything-in-existence-in-the-balance type of drama. Laid out like that, I couldn't blame you for thinking it sounds a lot like many other novels you've read, fantasy or otherwise. But you'd still be quite wrong.
Neverwhere is a great deal more than just the sum of those parts. Part of it is execution. The beats are all hit well, the bigger characters given some real depth and shading, and even the more one-dimensional ones are drawn so well it's easy to appreciate them regardless. Part of it is Gaiman's style. The book reads really easily but has a way of building an undercurrent of eerie tension, particularly as the plot starts thickening about halfway through. For me that was a lot of why I really loved reading this one. The sense of place in these versions of London was strong and I just found myself lost in the story, which is always a good sign.
In fact, that's the second time Gaiman's done that to me. The first was The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which managed to steal the better part of a Saturday from me. And, honestly, I couldn't have been happier. Both of these stories also left me aching to sit and write again, which is probably one of the better things I can say. Any book that screws up my perception of time and leaves me wanting to sit and take another crack at writing is one I'll make a special place for on my shelf, and probably lose after insisting some friend or family member read it and never seeing it again. Still, I look forward to passing Neverwhere along and having to replace my copy in a few years....more