**spoiler alert** The mystery of the Southern Reach trilogy isn't something that can be covered with one book. Annihilation and Authority were both in...more**spoiler alert** The mystery of the Southern Reach trilogy isn't something that can be covered with one book. Annihilation and Authority were both intriguing books, for different reasons, and Acceptance takes the main ideas of both and incorporates them into a subtle, sort-of conclusion that leaves many questions unanswered, but doesn't leave the reader feeling like he missed out on a good story. But because the books are so dependent on one another, it's next to impossible to discuss Acceptance without spoiling not just this book, but the entire series. So stop now if you don't want to know what happens next.
Annihilation was narrated by a nameless biologist, who returned from Area X in Authority as a different person, a copy of her original self, and took on the name Ghost Bird. The person who takes the biggest interest in Ghost Bird is the current Assistant Director of the Southern Reach, a man who has a real name, but chooses to go by the name of Control. The missing director of the Southern Reach, who Control and Ghost Bird choose to retrieve from Area X, is mostly referred to as "The Director" (and, oddly enough, referred to in the second person in her chapters in this volume), and goes by the name Cynthia, even though her real name is revealed to be Gloria. So names -- or, more specifically, the lack of them -- are important in this series, as the individuals' anonymity becomes a key player in the series.
Like the main characters, Area X -- the part of the coastal United States that was regressively transformed into a primitive wilderness that's become hostile to human visitors -- isn't explicitly defined with a name. It feels like it's located in Florida, but it's never explicitly stated in the book. It's a foreign, alien land that either transforms, kills, or duplicates the human visitors that enter in hopes of finding answers. Area X holds on to its secrets well, enough so that even by the end of Acceptance, we still don't know where it came from.
There are definitely hints. It might be a portal to a duplicate, primitive version of Earth. It might be something controlled by aliens as part of a curious experiment. It might be an ancient life form accidentally let loose on an unsuspecting public. Whatever it is, it's expanding; by the start of this book in the series, Area X has engulfed the organization that was tasked with unearthing its secrets.
The thing is, it doesn't matter what Area X is or where it came from. What's important is that it causes disorientation to those who come in contact with it. We see a glimpse of what life was like along the Forgotten Coast before Area X took it over, and we get some clues that may point us in the direction of its origins. But like the ambiguity that the characters have regarding their own questions, we don't ever know for sure.
Overall, the story could be seen as an environmental parable, where the world decides to take itself back from humans, but that oversimplifies the texture and atmosphere of the novels. It feels heftier and more substantial than just a mere parable, but it's hard not to read a story as dense and incomprehensible as this (as in answers, not story) without trying to add your own context to it all. As an example, Acceptance has one named character who features as a point of view in the story, and it's hard not to attach importance to him, since everyone else chooses to remain anonymous through their own pseudonyms. It seems to be an important point, but I'm not sure if I could tell you what that point is. It could be something as simple as that the character exists before Area X takes over, but I also feel like it's more significant than that.
These novels feel like smaller parts of a larger story, and honestly, I can see how all three novels could be published under one cover and still be successful. To that point, I would recommend anyone interested in this series do just that. Binge-reading the books back-to-back seems like the best way to approach the series. In fact, having finished them, I wonder if I will be re-reading these that way at some point in the future.(less)
WE INTERRUPT OUR PROGRESS ON SERIES to bring you a special review. What makes it special? Well, a dude I know wrote it. That's not a first around here...moreWE INTERRUPT OUR PROGRESS ON SERIES to bring you a special review. What makes it special? Well, a dude I know wrote it. That's not a first around here, but it's certainly notable. Plus, look at that cover! What's not to like about it?
Necessary Evil and the Greater Good is a novel about Heaven and Hell, Purgatory and Truth or Consequences, NM, Greek and Norse gods, and a Scottish terrier named Sir Reginald Pollywog Newcastle III. There are also a couple of human beings in the mix, but the real story is about Leviticus and Mestoph, the angel and demon characters who are hoping to bring about the end of the world with a couple of stolen items -- namely, an omen and a prophecy. If that doesn't interest you in the story, then I don't know what else to tell you.
The story is quirky and irreverent, but it still manages to have a seriousness about it that keeps it from being a satire or parody. It also moves quickly. The events in the novel are tied together in a way to keep the characters moving from place to place, but none of it feels random. Everything builds off of what's come before, and even when a new character is introduced to the story, it's done in such a way that he doesn't just appear out of nowhere. It helps that the story involves a prophecy and other spiritual machinations, but even then, Ingle doesn't rely on that as a way to explain away what is otherwise a random event.
There's also a dark sense of humor running beneath the events, with one character serving as comic relief and antagonist at the same time. In fact, there's a running gag that kept cracking me up, despite the fact that this was a books about bringing about the end of the world. There were many points in the novel where I found myself chuckling at an event or turn of phrase, and after reaching the halfway point in the book, I felt like I was in good hands. To give you an example, one chapter is titled "The Beginning of the Beginning of the Middle of The End," which makes perfect sense if you know the story.
The novel is a self-published effort, and suffers from some issues that are outside of the story itself (typos, weird formatting issues, and a lack of page numbers, despite having a table of contents that directed you to said page numbers), but otherwise it's one of the better self-published efforts I've read. I think the characterization of the two human characters could have been stronger, but the rest of the characters seemed real and alive to me, and besides, the humans weren't really the central characters anyway. Overall, it reminded me a little bit of how American Gods would have been if Quentin Tarantino had directed a movie version of it.
I'm not sure if it would be the kind of book for everyone, but if you don't mind a little irreverence in your theological novels, then I'd definitely recommend it.(less)
Going into this book, I was expecting something different. Annihilation was an introduction to Area X through the eyes of a new expedition, and I was...moreGoing into this book, I was expecting something different. Annihilation was an introduction to Area X through the eyes of a new expedition, and I was hoping to get more insight into the area with the second book in the series. I did, but not quite the way I expected. Instead of taking us back to Area X, this time VanderMeer chose to show us the bureaucratic organization that organized the expeditions and show how those expeditions had affected those at the organization.
The trilogy -- The Southern Reach -- takes its name from this organization, and with this novel, it makes sense. Where Annihilation was really about the biologist and her incentive for joining the expedition, Authority takes us behind the scenes to show us what went into making the expedition happen. It becomes clear near the start of the novel that the expedition was more about the Southern Reach than Area X, so now we get a better understanding of where the trilogy might be headed.
Authority is told from the perspective of Control, an anti-terrorism operative who has started a career at the Southern Reach, ostensibly to replace the director, who has gone missing. Using his training as an operative, he delves more deeply into the organization, but even as he starts to find answers to what questions he has, he finds even more questions, the least of which appears to be an uprooted plant that was left in the desk drawer in the old director's office. What he finds is more and more strangeness similar to that found in Annihilation, only this time outside of Area X.
The main character's given name isn't Control -- it's actually John Rodriguez -- but he prefers to go by that moniker. He's carried that name since he was young, but as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that he's struggling to maintain control in all aspects of his life. Aside from feuding with the assistant director, who firmly believes that her old boss will be returning, he's managing his past, his present, and his future, all while just barely holding on to all of it. By the end of the novel, he seems to have regained some of it, but like Annihilation, Authority doesn't end with happy endings and everything neatly explained. Given the shift in attention VanderMeer made from book one to book two, I expect book three will be something else entirely.
The story took a little longer to read (let's face it; reading details about office politics isn't as engaging as reading about a brand new world with a serious case of oddness about it), but it felt worth the effort. The only time I really felt like I was struggling to stay with the story was near the very end, where I felt VanderMeer stretched out the pacing to the point of annoyance. I get that he was trying to build tension, but by that point in the story, I had lost patience in it and was ready for the story to reach its inevitable confrontation.
Aside from that, though, the novel takes us in a new direction and shows us that what we thought we knew about Area X (such as it is) was only the smallest part of the story. I'm eager to see how the series wraps up, but I feel pretty confident in the series so far to believe that it won't be a disappointment.(less)
Take one piece Monty Python, one piece Looney Tunes, and a dash of The Usual Suspects (maybe just a skosh, even), and what you wind up with is somethi...moreTake one piece Monty Python, one piece Looney Tunes, and a dash of The Usual Suspects (maybe just a skosh, even), and what you wind up with is something called Fortunately, the Milk, Neil Gaiman's latest kids' book. It's short (not short enough to be a picture book, even though there are a lot of illustrations that are pretty critical to the story), witty (just enough to keep the grown-ups interested, but not so much that it flies over the kids' heads), and entertaining (perfect for everyone), and it's just what one would expect from Neil Gaiman.
In this story, two kids are getting ready for breakfast when they realize that they are out of milk. Their dad takes it upon himself to go out and get some milk for his children (the fact that he will also need some for his tea is just a happenstance), but then they're left waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, When he does come out, the first question the kids have is "Where have you been all this time?", and the answer he gives is the story we find in this book.
This book is a bit of a love letter from Gaiman to his fans. There's nothing serious or profound about the book (there's really not even a plot), but it contains a lot of typical Gaiman imagery, language, humor, and settings, which is what makes his books so much fun to read. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is a book that deserves to be read aloud, all in one sitting. Whether or not you want to read it to kids (its intended audience) or your significant other is up to you.(less)
I started reading comic books back when I was about 12 or 13, and around that time, I discovered Ambush Bug. It was the perfect sort of reading for so...moreI started reading comic books back when I was about 12 or 13, and around that time, I discovered Ambush Bug. It was the perfect sort of reading for someone that age, since Ambush Bug was all about the silliness. What I didn't understand at the time was that a lot of the jokes were about the comic book industry, and since I was just starting to get into them, I had no idea what was going on. But like most cartoons that can appeal to kids and adults at the same time, what I did get was so silly and ludicrous that it never entered my mind that I was missing anything.
I still like silly humor, and got a big helping of nostalgia a few weeks ago that convinced me to order a copy of this collection. It’s a collection of every Ambush Bug story up to its point of publication, from his early start as a nuisance of a villain to Superman (sort of like Mister Mxyzptlk to Batman) to becoming the only character in the DC Universe who knows he's in a comic book. There's a lot of bending and breaking of the fourth wall in the series, to the point where the editor shows up as a character, and Ambush Bug talks directly to the writers of the comic.
It's hard to say whether or not I would like this collection as much as I do if I didn't already know about the character. It seems like this collection came out around the time when those of us who grew up with Ambush Bug would have picked up a copy out of nostalgia's sake. I wonder if it would have seen print otherwise, especially considering that it's now out of print. It seems like to really get the adult side of the humor as it poked fun at the comics industry, one would need to know more about 1980s comics. Then again, I didn't know a whole lot about it when I was reading it as a kid, so maybe it's not a prerequisite.
The long and short of it is that if you remember Ambush Bug, and liked the sense of humor that he embraced, then this is the collection for you. If not, but if you like silly humor a la "The Animaniacs" or "Better Off Ted," then you might still enjoy it. The rest of you probably ought to steer clear of it all together.(less)
It's interesting to read a book in the Thursday Next series that doesn't involve the Bookworld in one way or another. It's a part of what makes the se...moreIt's interesting to read a book in the Thursday Next series that doesn't involve the Bookworld in one way or another. It's a part of what makes the series so creative and enjoyable, and I love to see how Fforde takes a part of fiction and applies it to real-world standards. The Woman Who Died a Lot references the Bookworld, and even has a significant plot point that concerns it (of course), but it doesn't take place there at all. The real focus of this novel is dealing with avoiding being smited by God and working out the intricacies of time travel when time travel is no longer a thing in their universe. And it's really not that much about Thursday at all.
The Woman Who Died a Lot focuses much more on Thursday's family and the other people who revolve around her in the SpecOps organization. She's become the head librarian at the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso's Drink Not Included Library (which, of course, is akin to being hired to play major league sports, which may account for the not-so-subtle jab at the current trend of stadiums being named after their sponsors), but the major plot points involve Friday and Tuesday, her children, Joffy, her brother, and Phoebe Smalls, who is now the head of SO-27. It makes me wonder if Fforde is wrapping up the series, or at least passing the focus of the novel from Thursday to the rest of the cast. I seem to remember reading somewhere that there are two distinct Thursday Next series — the first spanning The Eyre Affair to Something Rotten, and the second starting with First Among Sequels and still going — and I wonder if the next book will be the last one. It seems to be heading in another direction, that's for sure.
The book isn't a disappointment, by any means. There are some truly memorable moments here, especially with the mindworm that infects the family, forcing them to remember a daughter who never existed, and there's the usual silly wordplay and chaos that readers will recognize, but the focus seems to be shifting with this novel. There might even be a plothole or two relating to the first-person narrative and the way that the Dark Reading Material is accessible to the characters, but who knows? Maybe that will be covered in the next novel. I'm not any less eager to keep reading to see what happens next.(less)
If ever you want to read a book that plays with your conventions of what a novel is, and then keeps playing with it from the start of the book until t...moreIf ever you want to read a book that plays with your conventions of what a novel is, and then keeps playing with it from the start of the book until the end, then this book is the right one for you. Originally, I thought it was going to be something funny, like a Terry Pratchett novel. Then, it veered into some serious, deep topics, and I figured it was going to be a quirky parody of some kind. Then, I realized that the main character was the author, and knew that this was going to be a dark satire.
By the time I was 40 pages into the book, I actually felt a little depressed. I think it had more to do with my outlook instead of the book itself, but it really drove home the point of time and life and how we don’t really do all that we should with what we have. Yu also opined on the idea of us only getting one time to get it right, and how unfair it is. I imagined that the book would deviate from that idea at some point, but at the time, it hit pretty close to my own fears and insecurities, and I started wondering if I had gotten into something bigger than I wanted. At the same time, I figured that this might mean that it was a novel I needed to read, so I kept on going.
Ultimately, this is a novel about family, relationships, and, yes, time, and how all of them are intertwined and interconnected. The main character is someone who lives outside of time, in a stasis where he manages to exist without really living. His only companions are his imaginary dog (who, of course, has a physical state) and his onboard computer, who knows she is a computer program, but still has a lot of human traits and emotions. Charles (the character, not the author) is the son of the man who came up with the theory of time travel, but he’s been estranged from both his parents since he was a teenager, and the qualities of time travel give him the unique perspective of being able to catch up with them and try to make amends with them. Only he can’t find his father, and his mother has opted to live in a one-hour time loop that she considers to be the best time of her life with her family.
It’s a complicated story, not because it’s difficult to follow (an achievement of this novel is that it talks about quantum physics and time travel without being a morass of jargon and such), but because the relationships are complex. As such, the novel is more character driven than anything else, although the author does put a small semblance of a plot in place. Not only does it drive the main character forward, but it also helps him come to terms with his parents. But it doesn’t have that thrilling sort of end that a good, plot-driven novel will have. That’s not a bad thing, though.
This book is quirky for a number of reasons, but overall it stands as a good example of a good storyteller taking you along for a ride. It’s not funny-quirky, by any means, and that’s probably the biggest failing of the book, though that has more to do with the publisher than the author. The book is certainly promoted as something that will make you laugh, and while it has its moments, overall it’s more a book to make you think. So long as that’s understood up front, I think readers would enjoy going along with Charles (both of them) for this ride.(less)
Before you read this novel, you should ask yourself, Does that sound like the kind of novel I would like?, because honestly, the title tells you a who...moreBefore you read this novel, you should ask yourself, Does that sound like the kind of novel I would like?, because honestly, the title tells you a whole heck of a lot about the book. I don’t feel like I need to spoiler the fact that the story starts off with confirmation that Buddy Holly is, in fact, alive on Ganymede, but I figure I should make it clear that if that doesn’t sound like your kind of story, you’re probably better off avoiding it all together.
Avoiding the novel would be a shame, though, because while it’s certainly a science fiction/1950s music novel, it’s also a pretty good story about strength, perseverance, fate, and relationships. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you’re familiar with Denton’s work (Lunatics and Laughing Boy were, too), but if you’re not, and if the title of the story appeals to you, this is as good a place as any to start.
I really like the way that Denton approached the story. The story is ultimately about Oliver Vale, a young man who was conceived the night that Buddy Holly died, and had an odd relationship with his mother for much of his life. When Buddy Holly broadcasts a message back to Earth (from Ganymede, just in case you weren’t paying attention before) saying that Oliver has the answers, it sets off a series of chain reactions that gets him on the run, trying to find the answers that Buddy says he has. By the time the story begins, Oliver’s mother has been dead for a few years, and the story is told partly through sequential flashbacks, and partly through events that are taking place in the present. The flashbacks fit in somewhat with what’s happening in the present time, and I thought it was an effective way to tell the tale.
This was Denton’s first novel, but you’d be hard pressed to find the usual foibles that one might find in a first novel. The good guys are likeable, the bad guys are despicable, and then there are the characters who fall in between the two extremes, and you feel for them about how you’re supposed to. The plot comes together well, and the writing has the right strength and depth without coming across as arrogant or overly intellectual. It’s the perfect blend of form and function, with a loopy premise that makes sense and works within the confines of the story.
Just remember: If you’re not sure what to make of this novel, ask yourself what you think of the title. That should tell you enough to get you started.(less)
When I was in junior high school, I was a bit of a dork. And to be honest, I continued being a dork through high school, college, and ... well, let's...moreWhen I was in junior high school, I was a bit of a dork. And to be honest, I continued being a dork through high school, college, and ... well, let's just say that not a whole lot has changed over the past 20 years or so. What makes me mention junior high school is because I used to fantasize about being in a rock band. I would talk to friends about it, come up with cool names (Stainless Steel and Kevin McKinley and the Kinetics are the two I still remember), and I would even come up with logos, album covers, credits, and the like. I even came up with a pretty good name for an independent label while I was in college (nekkid rekkids). None of it ever came to fruition, but it was a lot of fun doing that sort of stuff. That it was a lot of fun sort of indicates how much of a dork I was.
Why do I mention all that? Well, King Dork has a main character in high school who does this very same thing. He's probably a little further into the "cool" part of the spectrum than I ever was (he's more rebellious, and actually noodles around enough on the guitar to be able to play one), but he and his friend don't fit in, because ... well, in high school, there doesn't need to be any specific reason why one doesn't fit in, and this book proves it, over and over and over again. The author manages to temper this causticity with a heaping helping of humor, but it's still caustic, and a lot of times it will wind up being in the "laugh so you don't cry" sort of vein. The main character and narrator drive the story with this sort of narrative, but underlying it all is a plot of the same character trying to discover who his father was. It all inter-relates well, and the author pulls it all together deftly.
The other thing about the book I liked was Tom's scathing criticism of The Catcher in the Rye, or, more specifically, his criticism of the teachers who view the book as the pinnacle of teenage rebellion. He makes the teachers out to be part of a cult who look at this one book as being the common bond between them and their students, even though the students don't seem to have any interest in the story. That the teachers view the book as a form of endorsed rebellion isn't missed by Tom, since he realizes that when a supposed form of rebellion is studied in a literature course, it's no longer a form of rebellion. But when the book itself becomes a modernized version of this much-hated, much-maligned (at least in this novel) book, it takes on a different level of symbolism that really works.
What's interesting about the book is that it's written by someone who went on to some modicum of fame as an adult: He's Dr. Frank from the Mr. T Experience. That was more or less what encouraged me to read the book, though the positive reviews I read of the book certainly didn't hurt. The man seems to be a good writer. If nothing else, he was able to capture perfectly the hell that is high school, especially for those people who never fit in with the in crowd. I saw a lot of myself in the main character (as evidenced above), and while I was never the misfit that Tom is, I recognized a lot of the angst and tension that he experiences while in high school. The author does a great job of capturing it all, down to the single least point of embarrassment.
The book falls into the "YA With Warnings" category, since it's very clearly a YA book (the main character and his trials and tribulations are all very much what a high-schooler would experience), but the content might put some parents off. If this book were a movie (and I understand that's in progress), it would be rated R for content and language. Of course, this is true for Catcher in the Rye, so I wonder if that was all together intentional, anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if it were.(less)
If, from the title of this book, you think it’s a graphic novel, you’re very close. The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl is a book about a woman who w...moreIf, from the title of this book, you think it’s a graphic novel, you’re very close. The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl is a book about a woman who writes and illustrates a cowpunk (an odd combination of steampunk and a Western) comic book titled The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. Her name isn’t Rangergirl, though, it’s Marzi (short for Marzipan), but her life does begin to take on some strange similarities to the main character of her comic book when she starts to see visions of her characters in the coffee shop where she is the night manager. She has a terrible fear of opening doors after suffering a nervous breakdown two years before, and to make things even worse, she begins to be pursued by a woman made entirely of mud, who believes that her goddess is commanding her to tear down the coffee shop.
Still with me? Good.
This is the first novel by Tim Pratt, and I’m awfully impressed with it. It has a very odd sensibility about it, but still manages to stay firmly rooted reality. Because of that, other people have termed this novel an urban fantasy, but whenever I think of those kinds of books, I think of Charles de Lint, and Tim Pratt has very little to do with de Lint. I find more similarities between Pratt and Cory Doctorow, or Damien Broderick, than I do other “urban fantasists”. For that reason, I would avoid labeling the book as either fantasy or science fiction, or urban fantasy or magic realism. The best label that comes to mind, for me, would be “imaginative fiction”, because this is certainly that.
Pratt is a vivid writer, and he brings a lot of life to his characters and settings. His imagery is stunning, as is his imagination, and the two combined make for a unque style of fiction. I’d love to give some examples of both, but the best examples come about halfway through the book and forward, and I would hate to spoil the story for anyone wanting to read the book. You’ll just have to trust me.
I’ve found that it’s much harder to review a book when it’s really good, as opposed to one that’s really bad. If a book is bad, I can see why — clunky narrative, unrealistic characters, or an inability to convey a sense of disbelief stand out. When a book is good, though, I tend to get so wrapped up in the story that much of the structure and mechanics of the story disappears. I can’t find much fault with this book.
If you enjoy science fiction that’s a little off kilter, or urban fantasies that are right on the fringe (or if you just like highly imaginative fiction), then I would recommend reading The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. I think it would be well worth the effort.(less)