The good thing about this story (aside from it being a new Rothfuss story) is that it's not about Kvothe. It's about Bast, and if you want to know morThe good thing about this story (aside from it being a new Rothfuss story) is that it's not about Kvothe. It's about Bast, and if you want to know more good news, then you'll be pleased to know that this story isn't told in the first person. We just get to read a story and enjoy it for what it is. Given that Bast is a mysterious character from the Kingkiller Chronicles, it was nice to get more information about him, and get some insight into his character. Considering how The Wise Man's Fear ended, I needed a little reassurance about the character. Oh, and can I just say how awesome it is that the character trades favors with children? Because it is. It's Gaiman-level awesome....more
When I first read this book, and The Fellowship of the Ring, it was in preparation for seeing the movies. I had never read them before then, and I felWhen I first read this book, and The Fellowship of the Ring, it was in preparation for seeing the movies. I had never read them before then, and I felt like it would be better to read them first, just so I'd have the books as my first experience with the stories. I wound up losing steam with that challenge before the third movie came out, but I can at least say that I read the first two books before seeing the movies.
A bunch of what I recall from the movie -- Gimli and Legolas keeping score during the Battle of Helm's Deep, for example -- seemed like it couldn't have existed in the book. Imagine my surprise when I realized that it was in the books first! That kind of competition seemed like something tied in to the video game audience Jackson was pandering to, so to see it in the book was a bit of a shock. I will say that Tolkien handled that exchange a lot better than I recall it from the movie, so there's that to consider. It felt more like two friends bandying about during the heat of the battle, instead of the one-upmanship that the movie took.
Interestingly enough, the characters who I feel have the most life in the stories so far are Gimli and Sam, two characters whose honor carries them above all else, and whose personalities turn them into comic relief for a good part of the story. I think part of what makes them so memorable is that they aren't so serious all the time. Gimli certainly presents himself that way, but his lust for battle makes him a little more humorous than the rest of the cast. That aspect of his character, I think, was well translated to the movie.
The story suffers mildly for being the second in a trilogy that was never intended to be a trilogy at all, but it's hard to fault the story for that point. Tolkien wanted the books to be released all together as one volume (and, interestingly enough, the printings that I'm reading number the pages of volumes two and three consecutively from volume one), and if The Two Towers is criticized for its lack of exposition and character introduction, then that critic is missing the point. I do find that the story would have been better told interspersing the events of books three and four instead of segregating them, but that's another point for Jackson and his vision.
There's not much to say about the book that hasn't been written before. It's certainly worth reading, though....more
The first time I read this book, I read an old copy of the book published in the 1960s, and according to the numerous forewords in this book, the versThe first time I read this book, I read an old copy of the book published in the 1960s, and according to the numerous forewords in this book, the version that I just finished is markedly different from the one I originally read. I exaggerate a bit (most of the changes are typos, corrections from "corrected" spellings, or other changes made by the publishers from the original manuscript, which means these are changes that I didn't expect to notice), but the way the authors talk about the changes, one would expect this to be like, say, reading the 1990 version of The Stand against the 1978 version. There was a lot of talk of tedious page-by-page comparisons between the US edition and the UK edition, using optical readers to make word-by-word comparisons, meetings with Christopher Tolkien to better understand the author's intent, etc. There has been (apparently) a lot of work put into making sure the 50th anniversary edition of the book was as close to the original manuscript as possible.
What I found most intriguing about the forewords was that it touched on the creative process that Tolkien had for creating this story. Apparently his first drafts were written in pencil, and his second drafts were (unless I was misunderstanding this part) written in ink over those pencil drafts, with some words changing between drafts. It made draft comparisons fairly tricky, not just because of Tolkien's style of writing drafts, but also because the pencil had smudged after nearly seventy years, making some of the original writing illegible. So not only were the restorationists working to recreate the original story, but they were working really hard to do so.
Tolkien also used the margins of his handwritten manuscripts to think through plot development, characters, or whatever else was relevant to the story at a given time. This was what precipitated the meetings with Christopher Tolkien, I suppose because the manuscripts are still held by the family. There's a multi-volume set of Lord of the Rings that includes annotations and other supplemental material gained from these notes, and I'll admit, part of me would like to see those. It just seems like a lot of Middle-earth, possibly more than could maintain my interest.
So, why am I spending so much time talking about the forewords instead of the book itself? Because there's really no point in reviewing The Fellowship of the Ring, is there? There's nothing I can add to the commentary that hasn't been covered in the last seventy years. The only thing I can saw is that if you saw the movies, but never read the books themselves, you really should read them. I'm re-reading this volume, and The Two Towers, so I can finally get around to reading The Return of the King. I know, I know; I should have read it a long time ago....more
Remember Jurassic Park, the movie? You know, the movie that had practical and digital effects mixed together? Well, I watched that movie a lot, to theRemember Jurassic Park, the movie? You know, the movie that had practical and digital effects mixed together? Well, I watched that movie a lot, to the point where I could start to tell which scenes were created using practical effects and which ones used digital effects. There was just something about how they looked on screen that made it easy to tell.
With Absolute Midnight, I read a new book in the Abarat series that was just text, without Barker's illustrations. As I was reading it, though, it became pretty clear which scenes would have been accompanied by illustrations, since some of the descriptive passages became even more so, as if Barker were describing what he saw in his painting, and not just what he saw in his head. It was kind of similar to how I could pick which scenes in Jurassic Park used which style of effects. In neither case is this a bad thing, but I'm curious now to find the illustrated version and see if I can pair up the illustrations with those passages.
Regarding the story, though, my biggest issue with the first two books was that the main protagonist -- Candy Quackenbush -- never felt as fleshed out as I felt she should be. Malingo, her sidekick and faithful companion, felt more like a real character, while Candy just felt flat. In Absolute Midnight, she didn't really improve. At the start of the book, I thought maybe she was finally going to get her due, but then she had to revert back to questionable decision making and just acting as the story required her to act.
Of particular note was when Candy met Gazza and fell into instant love with the guy, who of course reciprocated that feeling. It allowed for Barker to use a new conflict in the story, with Candy struggling between her destiny and Gazza, with the added complication of Malingo being a part of a triangle of sorts. In fact, one of the best scenes in the book was when Gazza and Malingo talked of their feelings about Candy. It was a brief, bittersweet scene that established the fact that there was a triangle there at all, and I expected that to go somewhere. Maybe it will (at the end, Malingo, Gazza, and Candy are thrust alone into the next chapter of this story), but I was disappointed that it was such a sudden thing in the character development.
Aside from Candy, Christopher Carrion is another character who feels disjointed throughout the series. In the first book, he's the clear bad guy; in the second book, he's more the wounded Goth kid from down the street; in Absolute Midnight, he's become pretty whiny and reserved, enough so that I wondered what the next book would bring for this guy. Barker planted the right seeds along the way to build up the real antagonist -- Mater Motley -- appropriately, but I would have preferred the characters be more consistent, as well. And what about Princess Boa? She goes from being the light and life of Abarat (as most people speak of her) to an evil that could go up against Mater Motley without too much trouble. A lot more happens in this book, and the story feels a little more significant than Days of Magic, Nights of War because of it, but I felt like I was missing a lot of the impact the story could have had due to the lack of characterization.
As for the story itself, Barker shows us clearly that Abarat is a series, not just a string of related books. He uses bits and pieces from earlier books to create his scenes here, and brings in new plot developments that hint at what's to come. I think the story will pick up in books four and five, which is enough to keep me reading, despite my concerns with the characterization....more
With All Out War, Kirkman showed us that a civilized world in the world of The Walking Dead wasn't out of the question. He showed us that it wasn't eaWith All Out War, Kirkman showed us that a civilized world in the world of The Walking Dead wasn't out of the question. He showed us that it wasn't easy, but he showed us that not everything had to be death, betrayal, and secrecy. It might have been a good place to end the series, but Kirkman either has more ideas, or he's not quite tired of the money he makes off of the series.
Given that the Governor and Negan have been essentially the same antagonist, with different resolutions, it makes me wonder if Kirkman does have enough ideas to carry the series forward. Considering that this collection takes us up through issue 132, one might think that the series would be winding up. Instead, Kirkman showed us in greater detail what that civilized world might be. Agriculture, animal husbandry, bartering, and even leisure time are highlighted in this new vision, and it's reassuring. A lot has happened to Rick and his team along the way, and they deserve moments like this, when they can be a community instead of a band of survivors.
Of course, this series being what it is, the world can't stay that way. And when I questioned whether or not Kirkman had enough ideas left to carry on with the series, I was wrong. He managed to throw some genuinely creepy moments into the story (which are fewer and farther between, compared to how many gruesome scenes he puts into the series), and managed to end this collection on a point where I regret not reading it from issue to issue. I'd much rather have one cliffhanger ending every few months instead of one every month.
So, the world of The Walking Dead marches on, and I'm still along for the ride. I'm not sure what Kirkman would have to do to make me quit the series, but he hasn't done it yet....more
It's been interesting to see the development of this series over the last three books. Ender's Game is a different sort of book than any of the remainIt's been interesting to see the development of this series over the last three books. Ender's Game is a different sort of book than any of the remaining books in the quartet, since it's more focused on action, while the last three books are more philosophical in nature. Children of the Mind picks up right from the point where Xenocide finishes, and, like Xenocide, is about identity amidst our personal and cultural history. This makes sense (according to Card's afterword, this book was initially a part of Xenocide), but where each other book in the series has its own distinctive theme, Children of the Mind feels like a continuation.
Again, this isn't a bad thing, and it makes sense based on Card's notes, but it just lacked some of the oomph that Xenocide had. At one point in the book, there was a palpable tension to the story where it seemed like one of the main characters wouldn't survive, but the thematic elements, and the significance of the events, didn't feel as important as they had been in previous books. Part of it, I think, was Card striving to wrap everything up neatly, with the right people ending up together, and all the main characters surviving and finding a solution to their problems. A little ambiguity, I think, would have been effective, as well as something to keep it from being such a happy-happy ending. In the end, it felt like there was no real sacrifice made by the characters (or, when there was, it didn't seem to affect them very long), and everyone wound up with what they wanted. It felt a little odd after reading the previous books.
Also, I felt like the characterization was weaker in this novel than it had been in the previous books. Peter changed from being the character from Xenocide to being someone altogether different; Wang-Mu goes from being a strong, thoughtful woman to someone who's insecure and lovesick; and Quara ... well, she didn't really change, other than the fact that Card makes her as unlikable as possible without making her a villain. Even established characters like Ender wind up feeling very two-dimensional, and I can't help but feel like Card was counting too much on the reader already being familiar with the characters and their backgrounds. From Speaker for the Dead to Xenocide, 30 years had passed, and Card had the opportunity to update their personalities and motivations; from Xenocide to Children of the Mind, only about two minutes passed, and I guess he forgot to build up his characters enough to make them real.
The story is still compelling, and I think anyone who finishes Xenocide will want to continue with this novel. I just think it would be irresponsible to recommend this without some hesitation. It's not nearly on the level as the rest of the series....more
For some reason, I was under the impression that Speaker for the Dead would be a good stopping point for the series, based on what a friend of mine toFor some reason, I was under the impression that Speaker for the Dead would be a good stopping point for the series, based on what a friend of mine told me several years ago. I took it to heart, but as I was reading Speaker for the Dead, and really enjoying it, I went back and looked at some friends' ratings for the rest of the series, and found that the same friend had rated Xenocide and Children of the Mind fairly well, so here I am, finishing out that series.
(And no, I don't plan on reading the Shadow series. Even if my friends' comments and ratings weren't enough to give me pause, I don't like writers revisiting old series and retelling existing stories. It feels too much like a cash grab to me.)
Xenocide is an unusual book, since it winds up being more philosophical than anything else. There is a series of events taking place, and a plot developing, but the book reads more like it's an examination of identity and sentience than a traditional story. It's still fascinating and compelling, but after the high-paced previous two books in the series, I was taken a little by surprise.
Like the previous two novels, the story centers on the moral dilemmas faced by characters, and that seems to be a common theme in Card's works. Here, we see the characters from the previous book some 30 years in the future, faced with solving the problem of a starship being en route to the planet to blow it up, while trying to determine which sentient race to destroy in order to preserve the other races. The other half of the story is set on Path, a planet populated by Chinese immigrants from Earth, and their social structure based on the godspoken, who are people with OCD, and are believed to be speaking with the gods. It's a good read, with a lot of characters who become more distinctive in this volume, and it's another story that will keep you thinking beyond the end of the story.
I found the moral compass and obligations of the planet Path to be frustrating, because it's all about what's ordained by the gods, but that was intentional by the author. The people in power on Path seem to follow that edict blindly, and like Speaker for the Dead surprised me by being about acceptance over judgment, when Card himself doesn't seem to follow that path himself, he portrays that blind moral obligation in a negative light. I wouldn't have expected that from someone who comes across as so devout.
Overall, I've been very impressed with this series, especially beyond Ender's Game. I'm already reading Children of the Mind, and I don't expect to be disappointed with it. ...more
Card has gotten a reputation over the past dozen years or so for being a conservative-minded person, going so far as to judge large groups of people fCard has gotten a reputation over the past dozen years or so for being a conservative-minded person, going so far as to judge large groups of people for their beliefs. Reading Speaker of the Dead makes me wonder what happened to Card since the publication of that book to make him so jaded. The whole point of the book (which, he says in the foreword, was the novel he really wanted to write when he published Ender's Game, so it makes me feel like this was his Real First Great Book) is one of recognizing the differences between one group of people and another as being something to accept and understand, not something to fear.
The book features Ender, now going by Andrew, three thousand years in the future of the universe, but only about 25 years into his own. He now speaks for the dead, as he did for the Buggers after the war, and his journeys take him to a settlement on the edge of the universe called Lusitania, where he has been called to speak for a handful of dead, all centered on one particular family. While there, he comes to know of the piggies, a native species to Lusitania, and the entire novel is about him coming to understand that species and teach the rest of the planet that they are people, too, just with their own belief systems.
With me, it's hard to divide the author from his work, so it was shocking to me to read a story that was all about acceptance over judgment, paired with what Card has said so publicly about his own conservative beliefs. The two themes aren't compatible to me, and it makes me think that either Card once believed in the themes he used in this novel, or that when he wrote this book, he was striving for greater fiction than his readers realized. Either way, though, I was surprised to find a novel I could accept so readily.
The novel isn't without its faults -- the secondary characters are mostly shells with traits that make them distinctive, instead of being full characters, and it feels very disjointed for the amount of ground it covers -- but it's well told, and emotionally gripping. Card seems to write in a condescending tone at times, even outside of how his characters talk, but the story still flew by. In fact, it was nice to read a book where I was wanting to finish it for the sake of the story, instead of wanting to finish it so I could move on to the next book on my list.
I really enjoyed this book, much more than I did Ender's Game. They're two very different novels, but still require reading them together to get the full story of Ender and the effect of the war on him. It's safe to say that if you liked the first book, then you should make an effort to read the second one, too....more
What I've found out from reading the Foundation and Dune series recently is that science fiction is more about the ideas than the writing itself. AsimWhat I've found out from reading the Foundation and Dune series recently is that science fiction is more about the ideas than the writing itself. Asimov created a fascinating universe, but his stories were lacking; Herbert created a brilliant universe of his own, steeped with religion, politics, and power, but his characterization seemed flat and the prose could run pretty dry (which, I suppose, is pretty fitting for a series about a desert planet). It's nice when the ideas behind a particular novel support an engaging story, as well, and that's where Ted Chiang comes in.
This short novel is a "Does what it says on the box" sort of book, since it's about the lifecycle of software objects. Specifically, it's about the development of "digients," digital sentient beings who have the capability to learn and develop over the course of their lifetime. The digients are created by a variety of software companies who want to give the users of a virtual world like Second Life the chance to raise and care for these beings in that environment. This isn't something new in science fiction, but whereas other stories have focused on how artificial intelligence affects our world, Chiang looks at how our world affects these digients.
The story focuses on two human characters, Ana and Derek, and the digients they've adopted. It's a useful way to frame the story, since the digients continually surprise people with what they're capable of doing on their own, and Ana and Derek serve as our way to react to those moments of surprise. Plus, the digients are fairly naive (they act like small children for much of their time in the story), and their innocence requires an adult perspective to interpret and receive their message. That Ana and Derek were instrumental in the development of the digients only makes that perspective more meaningful, as they're not just surrogate parents in this story; in a sense, they are the parents.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects covers a large span of time in a short amount of narrative. Sections of the story begin with "Six months later," or "One year later," as Chiang focuses on the major points of the story without getting bogged down by the minutiae of what happens during that span of time. He tells you about how human these digients are by showing you what happens when they're accepted, when they're forgotten, and when they're suspended (which is akin to death for the digients). It's not a spoiler to tell you what to expect from the story itself, since what makes the story special is how Chiang populates it with so many sympathetic characters in such a short span of time. The human characters are less developed than the digients, but not so much that the ending won't be emotional for you.
Chiang's writing is crisp and precise. There are no wasted words, no purple prose to get in the way of him telling you about how monumental it is for Jax, Marco, and Polo to be sentient pieces of software. His style reminds me a little of George R.R. Martin's, in that it's understated. Read a random sentence from the story and it won't wow you with its power; all together, though, it becomes more than the sum of its parts, and the story is hard to put down. It took a little time to get used to the story being told in the present tense, but by page 25 or so, I was accustomed to it, and flying through the story.
I picked up this book based on an article discussing the best science fiction stories of 2014, and I'm glad that I did. I put my Unfinished Series project on hold for this (namely because this came from the library; the novella is out of print, and demanding some hefty prices on the secondary market), and I'm glad I did. If anything about the story sounds interesting to you, seek it out for yourself and read it. You won't be disappointed....more
I'm not the biggest Rothfuss fan out there. I enjoyed The Name of the Wind a good bit, but felt a little disillusioned with The Wise Man's Fear when II'm not the biggest Rothfuss fan out there. I enjoyed The Name of the Wind a good bit, but felt a little disillusioned with The Wise Man's Fear when I realized how much of a Mary Sue Kvothe actually was. I still enjoy Rothfuss' writing, but I know a handful of people who adore his work. Me, I won't see the need to re-read the first two books in the series once the third one comes out. I don't think they have the depth that necessitates a re-read.
That's a long way of saying that I might not be the target audience of this novella. Rothfuss even mentions this in the afterword, where he says, basically, "If you didn't like this, it's OK. It's probably not your kind of book." He talks about how the story came to be, and how he felt like it didn't have any of the things that a good story was supposed to have. Despite this, the more he shared the story with people, the more they liked it, to the point where one of his readers said that folks who want stories have books written for them all the time; why not have a different sort of story who want those kinds of stories?
(As an aside, I ran across a quote by Caitlin Kiernan last week, where she was bemoaning the criticisms people lay on her for not writing books that were about story. Her response was, "Anyone can come up with the artifice/conceit of a 'good story.' Story bores me. Which is why critics complain it's the weakest aspect of my work. Because that's essentially purposeful. I have no real interest in plot. Atmosphere, mood, language, character, theme, etc., that's the stuff that fascinates me. Ulysses should have freed writers from plot." I guess that's fine and good if you don't read for story, but the last time I checked, that's what most people want out of their books.)
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is not, as Rothfuss notes, a traditional story. It follows the barest semblance of a plot involving Auri as she wanders around Underling, where she lives, for a week as she prepares for another visit from Kvothe. Mostly, the story is an examination of what it's like to live with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but we get a hint at why Auri is the way she is, and how she thinks.
As I started reading this novella, I got frustrated with the lack of anything happening. I found myself enjoying parts of it -- Rothfuss writes like a poet here, and while I was never wild about poetry in college, I like a good turn of phrase here and there -- but mostly I wanted something to develop. It never did, but as I kept reading, I became more critical of the narrative and the style. Some of Rothfuss' similes left me wondering (how does something "smell red"?), and I became a little annoyed with the way he kept writing with homophones. Later I realized this was a glimpse into Auri's mind.
Something else that struck me was how deftly Rothfuss managed to create atmosphere. It was easy to follow Auri's moods, since Rothfuss could shift the mood through the narrative directly. When Auri had a moment where she began to panic, it was easy to see it coming when she started rinsing her hands and feet, over and over again.
So, despite this novella not being an interesting story, it did wind up being an interesting read. It helped me realize why Rothfuss is popular, and why I like reading his novels, even if Kvothe is usually an insufferable twit. I can't really spoil anything for you, since nothing really happens in the novella, but if you already like Rothfuss' work, there's no reason not to check out this book....more
With this book, Herbert continues to talk about power, and this time he takes a look at what happens when someone has an infinite amount of it. Leto IWith this book, Herbert continues to talk about power, and this time he takes a look at what happens when someone has an infinite amount of it. Leto II, the son of Paul Muad'Dib, has become mostly sandworm, thanks to his beginning transformation that took place at the end of Children of Dune. His prescience is such that he can see almost everything in the entire universe, and predict how things will go. He has unlimited power, he is nearly immortal (3,500 years have passed since the ending of Children of Dune), and he is so feared that everyone lets him get away with whatever he wants.
Herbert doesn't hold back from portraying Leto as a tyrant. Aside from his issuing commands based on his own whims, he's portrayed as having Duncan Idaho resurrected as a ghola over and over again, such that Duncan has been a part of Leto's household since he took control of Arrakis (note again that this happened 3,500 years ago). What's even more interesting is that Duncan's reincarnations apparently have a history of rebelling against Leto for one reason or another, to the point where Duncan rarely lives out to the end of his normal life; he's usually killed by Leto as Duncan tries to kill Leto once he realizes how much of a tyrant he's become. It's telling, because it suggests that Duncan has been resurrected many thousands of times, especially when Leto and his other advisers refer to him as "The Duncan."
The story follows the end of one Duncan's life, and the start of another cycle with the next. It's a good storytelling technique, since each reincarnation of Duncan requires explaining what's happened in the intervening 3,500 years. Duncan serves as the device to explain to the reader those events, and it also allows us to see the entire transition that takes place that enables Duncan to turn on his loyalty to the Atreides and try to kill Leto. Given that the story jumps so far ahead in time, it's a useful way to convey a lot of that information.
God Emperor of Dune is a logical step in the story that Herbert tells with the Dune Chronicles, but that's not to say that it's an easy read, nor one that makes a whole lot of sense. Thematically, it's like it's telling the story of a twisted, power-hungry tyrant, but it also drops hints that Leto is doing all this with a clear goal in mind. His prescience gives him the ability to see where the future leads, and unless I'm misinterpreting part of the story, his tyranny is used to protect the greater population of the entire universe. He (and, I'm guessing, Herbert himself) speaks to male vs. female armies, and the consequences of having one over another. There was the potential of the argument behind it as being controversial due to it being sexist, but Herbert married the argument with Leto's ability to see the entirety of human history, which enabled him to compare them directly. In the end, it felt like it was a progressive step.
Overall, the book doesn't quite compare to the events that took place in the first three books, but if one looks at the book in the context of what Herbert has to say about power, then it fits in well with the whole series. It's even easy to justify the weirdness that Herbert incorporates into the story, since it was relevant to what he had to say about power. If the series keeps progressing in this direction, then I doubt I'll be disappointed. Story issues aside, the theme has been enough to carry me through the entire series....more