I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve gotten some of my reading inspiration over the past year or more from the reading selections of The Sword and Laser g...moreI think I’ve mentioned that I’ve gotten some of my reading inspiration over the past year or more from the reading selections of The Sword and Laser group. I don’t participate in their discussions very often, and I’m a pretty slow reader and am usually behind their pace, but I’ve read quite a few things I would not have looked twice at before because of the The Sword and Laser group. One of those is A Game of Thrones, Book One of A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin.
It’s been made into a board game, a LCG, a CCG, an RPG, and soon an HBO pilot, but somehow it all slip past me. So is the novel worthy of all the attention?
Epic Story. The book has everything that an epic story should have: love, fear, hatred, war, death, betrayal, conspiracy, innocence, intrigue. A world that seems to have as much history in it pre-novel as it may have going forward. A story in which so much happens, and yet you barely scratch the surface. It’s no wonder that Martin has been called “The American Tolkien.”
Diverse Characters. Characters coping with situations they are unsuited for. Unlikable characters you grow to love. The diversity of character types in this book astounds me. The bastard son. The crippled boy. The drunken ruler. The clueless snobby sister. The dwarf. The incestuous royalty. The driven wife and mother. The exiled prince. The court liar. The tomboy sister. The savage’s bride. The boys who would be kings. The all-knowing spy. The rescued wolf pups. Martin weaves these characters together almost flawlessly, and nearly every one of them believable.
NOT SO MUCH
Slow Start. It took me awhile to really get into the novel. I listened to the unabridged audio, and it normally takes me a little time to adjust to a new narrator. But probably no more than a half hour… Roy Doctrice does a masterful job. But the story itself took me 3-4 hours to get into. About 2 hours in I almost gave up. I think there are so many characters and plotlines that you jump back and forth between that it feels very disjointed when it’s all new.
Lack of Foreshadowing. Maybe I’m used to a lot of Stephen King. King will write something like “John thought it was a perfect summer morning. Little did he know it would be his last.” Then as you read the next 200 pages, that plays on your mind and your anticipation builds. Martin doesn’t ever really do that, instead going for the instant shock value.
Chapter Structure. One thing that struck me while reading was that I felt a little cheated by the chapter structure. Every chapter is told through the third person point of view of a major character. The problem with that is that when something happens, or is about to happen, to that character, and the chapter ends, you don’t really find out what happens until that person’s POV comes back around in a chapter, even as time passes in the world. Now, all authors control the flow of their stories and will read the reader on with little cliffhangers and such. What bugged me is that the chapter format sort of emphasizes that you’re being led along, because with each passing chapter that doesn’t return to the character in question, you get pulled out of the story by noticing that it didn’t. For instance, one character has 14 of the first 49 chapters, meaning you switch to that characters point of view roughly every 3-4 chapters. Then something happens to them, and you don’t see their POV again for 9 chapters. It really jumped out at me and dragged me out of the story.
Despite my misgivings about the way some of it was written, it’s the story that makes the novel. And the story is so rich and full that once I hit that 3-4 hour mark, I was sucked in and there was no stopping. It was probably one of the fastest 33-1/2 hour books I’ve ever read on audio. I started the second novel (which is 3 hours longer!) the next day, because I wanted the story to continue. There are four books published to date, out of a potential seven, and at the rate I’m going, I may just blow through all four (the release of a fifth book was pushed back several times, and may or may not come this year).
With the HBO pilot looming on the horizon, now’s your chance to start reading where it all began. If you like epic fantasy, you owe it to yourself to start this series. (less)
Upon hearing of upcoming adaptations of The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub, I decided that it might be a good time to read the novel, bef...moreUpon hearing of upcoming adaptations of The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub, I decided that it might be a good time to read the novel, before those adaptations hit. The Talisman was published in 1984 and is the story of 12-year-old Jack Sawyer, and his cross-country journey to find an object that might cure his ailing mother of the cancer she is dying of. But of course, this is King and Straub we’re talking about, so you have to throw in a good mix of parallel worlds you can “flip” to where your “twinner” might exist, and werewolves and maniacal preachers and … well, all manner of things you might expect from those two authors.
The writing style. I’ve never read any Peter Straub novels before, but I’ve read a lot of Stephen King. The foreshadowing of events, giving you a teaser of what’s to come to whet the appetite without ruining the suspense, is way above par compared to other authors I’ve read lately. The tying together of plot elements in satisfying ways is masterful. Can you say Hallelujah!
The audiobook. Frank Muller’s reading was once again superb. When deciding whether to read the book on my Kindle or listen to the unabridged audio, I went for the audio immediately when I learned that Frank Muller did it, and I was not disappointed. His character voices, his inflections, his pauses at just the right moments… I almost felt like I could not have read it in my mind as good as he read it aloud.
NOT SO MUCH
The talisman. Why does it exist? How did it get trapped in the Agincourt Hotel and by whom? How do people not know of it? It seems to be an immense power that spans endless worlds, yet it’s ultimate use is for one rather mundane task (by comparison) in one world, that only affects two worlds, as described. I almost feel as though it would have been better to call it a “magic thingy” and leave it at that. Instead I feel like King & Straub only went halfway with it. Sure, there’s plenty of fodder for a sequel, but it left me feeling a bit unsatisfied with this story.
The long journey. The pacing felt very odd. Way to much time is spent in the Oatley Tap for its significance to the story. The same is true for Sunlight Gardner’s School, although the people there hold more significance. The time spent with Wolf… the same. His transformation felt like it played out just because he was a werewolf and that’s what you were supposed to do in a story that has a werewolf. After going from New Hampshire to Illinois at an agonizingly slow pace, Jack travels basically from Illinois to California in 2 days by “train.” The journey back was even quicker, but you would expect that, much the same way that Bilbo’s journey There and Back Again was much more about “there” and very little about “back again.” But the pacing of Jack’s journey there just seemed a little wordy in parts and forced in other parts.
I found The Talisman to be a strange book. Maybe just not what I expected, although I really knew nothing about it when I started. I haven’t really read anything about the book since I finished it, such as how King and Straub divided the writing and so forth. As a King fan, it might be interesting to know what the Straub bits were, if that is easily discerned, to see if Straub’s influence is what threw me off in this story.
While it was engaging enough to finish, and I’m going to start reading the sequel Black House right away, I’m not sure I’d pick it over other King novels were I to recommend just one. So I guess I’d recommend it with reservations. If you’re going to delve in, though, get the Frank Muller audiobook.
As a side note, the success of the comic adaptations of The Dark Tower and The Stand have lead Del Rey to announce an upcoming version of The Talisman in comic form, reportedly to start in a few months and span at least 24 issues. It remains to be seen how that will play out, but given the past comic series quality, I might even recommend just reading the comic over the book (something I would rarely do).
Also, there has been a reported 6-hour miniseries of The Talisman in the works by Stephen Spielberg for several years now. I think it’s been on hold due to budget issues, so I’m skeptical that it’ll ever see the light of day. There is also a fun demo video made by up-and-coming filmmaker Matthieu Ratthe that gives you some sense of how good a movie of The Talisman could be. (less)
The very first book I bought for my Kindle 2 was Ur by Stephen King. It is currently a Kindle exclusive, and being a sucker for all things King (a Con...moreThe very first book I bought for my Kindle 2 was Ur by Stephen King. It is currently a Kindle exclusive, and being a sucker for all things King (a Constant Reader, if you will), I just had to pick it up.
The story revolves around college English professor Wesley Smith, who was chided by his former love as to why he can’t just “read off the computer like the rest of us.” He orders a Kindle from Amazon, and is surprised when a pink one arrives overnight. He soon discovers that not only can he download books from Amazon, but books from different Urs, alternate realities past and future. When he discovers that he can also download newspapers that way…
The Dark Tower Connection. That came out of left field for me. I wasn’t thinking it or expecting it at all, although it makes perfect sense in hindsight. My first thought was “No way” followed quickly by “Of course.”
The price. It’s a quick read, being a short story / novella, but the price is nice at only $2.99. It was a smart move by Amazon to team up with a high profile author to promote the Kindle 2.
NOT SO MUCH
UR or Ur. How do you spell it? Even Stephen King’s own website uses both. Inside the story, it’s shown as Ur, but the cover picture depicts UR, so I decided to compromise and use UR in the title and Ur in the text.
Ad-like. By its nature, it feels like a bit of an ad for a Kindle. King’s a professional, and the story moves beyond that, but you still think about that as you’re reading.
Yes. The story ‘s premise is decent, and if you can get past the fact that it’s a story available (currently) for the Kindle and it’s about a Kindle, it’s very enjoyable. For King fans that can’t get enough of The Dark Tower series and all of King’s other connections to it, it’s a must-read. (less)
I jumped right from A Game of Thrones to A Clash of Kings, Book 2 of “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin. Once again I listened to the unab...moreI jumped right from A Game of Thrones to A Clash of Kings, Book 2 of “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin. Once again I listened to the unabridged 36+ hour audiobook read masterfully by Roy Dotrice. The book unapologetically picks up right where the first book left off, with very little in the way of recap. What else would happen to the Starks, the Lannisters? How would Daenerys and her newborn dragons play a part? Or John Snow up in the frozen north? Most improtantly…
…is it a worthly continuation of the series?
Perspectives. I like the fact that not every main character is a king or queen. Rather than have Cersei Lannister or Rob Stark, major influencers in the world, as narrative characters, the book introduced two new narrative characters, in Davos Seaworth the Onion Knight and Theon Greyjoy. Seeing the events of the Battle of the Blackwater unfold from an unrespected smuggler-turned-knight’s perspective, rather than from a great commander like Stannis Baratheon, makes the novel much more interesting.
Unknown Future. Because of the genre and the epic feel of the tale, people often refer to Martin and Tolkien in the same breath. But when you read the first 50 pages of The Lord of the Rings, you know where the characters are ultimately going to end up. You know where Roland of Gilead has to end up at in the Dark Tower series. In this series, I have no idea where things are headed. Given that this is Book 2 of a seven book series, I’m more than okay with that, as long as the story remains engaging. As I read further I would expect to see some foreshadowing of that, but at this stage it’s refreshing to not have a clue what’s around the next corner.
NOT SO MUCH
Cheap Turns of Events. Without revealing too much for those who have yet to read the book, the way two events unfolded in the narrative cheapened their plotlines. In both instances, events were drawing to their inevitable conclusions, only to be completely reversed in the final moments. It hearkens back to the first novel, and the events surrounding Eddard Stark at the Great Sept of Baelor. Surprising the reader with an unexpected turn of events should rarely happen, and only if skillfully done. In this novel, I felt as though I was reading an Agatha Christie novel, and was told that the murderer was the butler’s daughter, who was barely mentioned and not even a suspect. I hope future novels don’t continue the trend.
Chapter Structure (Again). I said previously that while reading A Game of Thrones that I felt a little cheated by the chapter structure. I still feel that way in this book, though perhaps I’ve come to expect it. I still feel a bit too led along by the author, which pulls me out of the book. For instance, when the focus of novel turned towards The Battle of the Blackwater, the story shifts only to that, and chapters told from the perspective of the three people in the area. For quite awhile, the story bounces between these three characters, and all other plotlines are set aside, until things reach a dramatic peak, and then we’re shifted off somewhere else with little explanation. Don’t get me wrong: I understand this is part of the storytelling structure and the author’s dramatic license. I just think it feels a little ham-fisted.
My interest never waned throughout the story, although I thought some of the pacing was off from the first novel. Some of the main characters (Sansa, Catelyn) were less developed this time through, but the stronger ones (Tyrion, Arya) continue to shine. I’m not sure I liked it as much as the first novel, but it’s a strong followup. I’m definitely going to continue reading the series, though I might take a slight detour to read another thing that was just recently released. More on that in a few weeks, I hope. (less)
Hot on the heels of finishing The Talisman on audio, I started up the sequel, Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub, as my next audiobook selec...moreHot on the heels of finishing The Talisman on audio, I started up the sequel, Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub, as my next audiobook selection. Black House picks up the story of Jack Sawyer when he’s all grown up. He’s now a retired copisman… err, cop who once solved a murder in French Landing, Wisconsin, and decided to retire early and move there just prior to the start of child kidnappings and murders in the scenic, sleepy town.
So did this sequel, written by King and Straub 17 years after the first book was published, live up to the original?
Dark Tower Universe. Being a huge fan of the Dark Tower novels, I picked The Tailisman and Black House to read for two reasons. First, the same people that make the excellent comics of The Stand and The Dark Tower are prepping for a new series on The Talisman, and I figured I better finish the novel(s) first. Second, I read that there was a connection to the Dark Tower series in the books. The Talisman had very connection if any, but Black House… wow! Huge, huge Dark Tower connections.
Henry Leyden. Probably the most fully formed character in the novel is more like four characters in one, with his radio personalities “Henry Shake,” “Symphonic Stan,” “The Wisconsin Rat” and “George Rathbun.” I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a character that wasn’t the main protagonast in a book in quite awhile. While other characters like Beezer St. Pierre were unique and stand out, none were as well defined as Henry. His actions play heavily into the plot, and King and Straub tried hard to really make the reader care about Henry. Even a blind man could see that.
NOT SO MUCH
The first 100 pages. Ok, I listened to the unabridged audio, so I don’t know how many pages it was, but the first part of the book was really slow. There was a lot of character introduction and not a whole lot of story. When the story did pick up, it took off fairly rapidly, but it took awhile to get there.
Didn’t feel like a sequel. For reasons that are fully explained in the novel, there is very little acknowledgement in the first half of the book that there was a previous story about Jack Sawyer. He could have been a brand new character. Then when the past story did enter the plot, it was very selective. You really got a limited view of the Territories in The Talisman. And you got even less from the sequel. It’s not that I didn’t like what we did get. It’s that my expectation was far different from reality.
This is a tough one. If you are a Dark Tower fan… yes. You should enjoy the connections to Roland’s world. If you read and enjoyed The Talisman… yes. It’s definitely not the same type of book, but you should enjoy the further adventures of Jack Sawyer. If you are a Stephen King and/or Peter Straub fan… yes, although I might recommend other books by those authors first. If you are just looking to pick up a book and don’t qualify for any of the above… maybe. You might enjoy it, but you’d get much more out of it being one of the above as well.
If you’re an audiobook fan… I can’t say enough about the audiobook version read by Frank Muller. He did the unabridged reading of The Talisman as well, so it’s nice to have the continuity there. And he describe a pile of dog poo and make it sound appealing. Probably even give it a voice that would make you think that’s what dog poo would really sound like. Often when I listen to other narrators, it will remind me of how good Frank was. (less)
ust finished up The Stand by Stephen King. It was originally written in 1978 and was revised and expanded in 1990. About 400 pages were added back in...moreust finished up The Stand by Stephen King. It was originally written in 1978 and was revised and expanded in 1990. About 400 pages were added back in that were originally removed by King at the suggestion of the original publisher to make it more marketable/profitable. The story is about the survivors of a superflu that is accidentally released by the U.S. military and wipes out nearly all of the world’s population, setting the stage for an ultimate confrontation between Good and Evil.
I bought the paperback of the expanded edition in the early 90′s and started reading it, but put it down at some point to read something else, and never went back to it. Since I’ve read the majority of Stephen King’s works via audiobook, I had hoped to be able to do the same with The Stand, but audio versions are hard to come by. There is a Books On Tape version of the original book, and a UK Royal Institute of the Blind version of the expanded book, but no official U.S. release of it. I picked it up and started it again about the time the Marvel comic series started (see below), wanting to stay ahead of the comic releases, and was about 200 pages in before again stalling out. When the Kindle spurred my love of reading on again, I bought the Kindle version, and finished all 1140 pages (if the Kindle actually had pages, that is).
The plot. 99.4% of the world’s population dying by the accidental release of a man-made virus. The ways in which people trying to cope with everyone dying around them. The gathering of the good people and the not-so-good people. Epic apocalyptic confrontation between good and evil, in the classic sense where Good is pretty hands off (ok, well, “hands off” most of the time), and Evil is very proactive.
The characterizations. There were a lot of characters in The Stand. But most were pretty distinct and not always one dimensional. You can’t sustain a novel that long without a good cast of characters, and The Stand has it. M-O-O-N, that spells good characters. Not that there was any one character that I could identify with (I’m no Trashcan Man), but it’s definitely a story where you say to yourself as you go along “what would I do if this happened?”
The miniseries. Ok, so this is supposed to be about the book. But I watched the miniseries in 1994 and couldn’t remember much except some very basic things. The rewatched it this week. It’s good. It follows the story very well, and I find it hard to criticize much in it without getting too nitpicky. It’s showing its age a little, in terms of the production values, but it’s a decent visual abbreviation of the book. Watch it if you can find it on DVD somewhere.
NOT SO MUCH
The world view. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I couldn’t help wondering quite a bit about what was happening outside the U.S. Not that the survivors would know in 2009 any more than in 1990. I’m sure communications would break down as rapidly as anything else. But was some guy in Turkey seeing visions of the Walkin Dude? Was a Japanese lady trying to figure out how to get to Nebraska?
Vegas motivations. I never did understand the motivations of the population that was drawn to Las Vegas. You almost always heard that the dreams from Flagg were nightmarish. Evil people are not necessarily attracted to frightening things. Maybe some were seduced by thoughts of power or something, but what about the average man that goes there and ends up on street cleaning duty? My best guess was that it was a compulsion, but that answer is somehow unsatisfying to me.
Yes. I’d put it up there as one of my favorite Stephen King books (and I’ve read quite a lot of them). I was a bit daunted by the length at first, and the fact that I’d started and stopped it twice since 1994, but I’m pretty sure that happened previously not for lack of interest, but because I put it aside to read some new release I’d been waiting for, and then never went back to it. This time around I stuck solely with it and looked forward to getting back to it day after day. If you’re not daunted by the length, I’d highly recommend it.
If you’re not much of a reader, as I said before, there’s always the miniseries. Also, Marvel Comics has been adapting the novel to comic form during the last year. The first five comics have been combined into a hardcover volume entitled The Stand: Captain Trips, which is available at comic shops and online retailers. The story continues in the second group of comics, entitled The Stand: American Nightmares, which is currently being released monthly. So far they are very detailed and true to the novel.
Finally, Twitter lovers can follow Mother Abigail, Randall Flagg, Frannie Goldsmith, Stu Redman and a host of others as they seem to be twittering out the whole story. Beware of the swine flu... err, Captain Trips. (less)