My days of respect for the classic French novelists are definitely coming to a middle.
They are, nearly universally, overwritten garbage with a weak pl...moreMy days of respect for the classic French novelists are definitely coming to a middle.
They are, nearly universally, overwritten garbage with a weak plot and ridiculous situations. I know I’m treading on a lot of people’s toes by saying this but I just can’t fathom why some of these books are considered classics. If somebody wrote this kind of thing today it would be ignored.
The eponymous Hunchback of Notre Dame is described early in the book (about page 100) and, except for a short scene that lasts all of two pages, doesn’t show up again until four hundred pages later. There are long passages of explanations about characters that will never be seen again. The apparent heroes of the story are a troupe of idiots.
Phoebus, the captain of the guard, is so flighty and forgetful of everything and everybody that he might as well not exist at all. Esmerelda is clever and kind and brave until something actually threatens her and then she spends the rest of the book simpering about how Phoebus (who doesn’t even remember that she exists) hasn’t saved her yet. This stupidity filters down to the rest of the characters until the entire book is just a confederacy of dunces acting out a play for the entertainment of the author.
At least in Les Miserables Hugo tries to imbue – after a thousand pages – some sense that there was a point to all the endless description. He even ties it up nicely by making the characters sound like they are only slightly stupid. Alexander Dumas – while falling for many of the same over-explaining flaws – can at least have characters that act intelligently.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame only has a plot because the people are incapable of sentient thought. Many times it felt like the characters had forgotten their lines and were just ad-libbing to cover up until somebody gave them a prompt. I find that this is the worst kind of book to have to read because even the idiot plot that is there is still so sparse that it doesn’t matter.
Instead of reading this go watch the Disney adaptation. They managed to turn the characters into actual people, condense the story into something worth seeing, and pull something wonderful out of this epic mess.(less)
It is interesting for me to note that Joseph Smith's literacy actually improves noticeably as the book...moreWhat can I say about this one? It is what it is.
It is interesting for me to note that Joseph Smith's literacy actually improves noticeably as the book progresses.
Other than that... if your interested in getting a very detailed account of the events that took place in the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints then you should read it. If not then don't.(less)
I usually find mystery/thriller books to be full of flat and unrealistic characters with poorly conceived stories. Realizing that most people who try...moreI usually find mystery/thriller books to be full of flat and unrealistic characters with poorly conceived stories. Realizing that most people who try out science fiction and fantasy -- my usual forte -- have the same complaints about those genres I decided to give a few of the more popular mysteries a try. I picked up a stack of books from a yard sale and started with the first one alphabetically.
This didn't do anything to dissuade from my opinions. The story was filled with useless details, ridiculous dialog, the kind of thing that sounds like a couple of second graders in their school play. The story actually took over a hundred pages for the murder to happen -- this is a murder mystery isn't it? Then the characters spend another four hundred pages doing mostly nothing with little bits of really fake drama thrown to make you think that there's a hint of real character development. But, don't be disappointed, there isn't. Baldacci even has sections of the book in the bad guys point of view where the bad guy (and his friends -- the ones we know about) studiously does not think about himself so that we won't know who he is. When an author purposely hides information from the reader it makes frustration not suspense. If the story (or section of the story) is from a certain point of view then the reader should know everything the character knows. Suspense, as Daniel Abraham says, comes from knowing.
I know this book is an older one but for such a high selling author I expected a better story, better characters and a higher level of story telling ability rather than somebody who resorts to cheap tricks (that don't work) in order to build a faux suspense.
I'll try Dan Brown next, I've heard that he is better.(less)
A mediocre fantasy about a young girl who joins a mercenary crew turns into a powerful contemplation on the effects of PTSD and depression in the seco...moreA mediocre fantasy about a young girl who joins a mercenary crew turns into a powerful contemplation on the effects of PTSD and depression in the second book. After the first book I was slightly interested in this series. Now I don’t want it to end.(less)
The meaning of the word epic is changing. The word is derived from the Greek epikus meaning 'word song.' To the greeks an epic was a ballad or poem of...moreThe meaning of the word epic is changing. The word is derived from the Greek epikus meaning 'word song.' To the greeks an epic was a ballad or poem of great length that centered on the heroic actions of one or a group of characters. The elevated style of the series of fantastical events that the hero(es) went through was one key element of an epic. The Illiad, Aeneid, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, are all great epics.
In recent years epic has grown to mean anything that is “heroic, majestic, or impressively great” according to Dictionary.com. This is where we get epic storms and epic moments. Fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien – having elves and dwarves – is called epic fantasy.
On the internet epic has changed to mean simply big, or cool.
Fantasy also, of late, has been trying to distance themselves from Tolkien. (This idea in itself is flawed. By choosing to not be inspired by the master you are, in effect being inspired by the master, even if it is in a negative way.) As a consequence 'epic fantasy' no longer resembles Tolkien's great masterpiece in the traditional ways. Instead it has become a marketing tool. Every 'epic' fantasy is written by the 'next Tolkien' as if anybody who hasn't had at least fifty years to measure their impact on the world could ever make that claim.
Understanding this, when I read that something is an epic fantasy I usually understand what they are saying. It's a long story, with several books (at least three) and a world that is fully developed where the history and environment and cultures are at least as important as the characters.
There have been very few true epics created in the last two hundred years. Wagner's Ring Cycle is definitely one of them. Some movies might qualify, like Ben Hur. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is perhaps, thanks to the movies, the most popularly recognized epic. Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is an epic. It could be argued that Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time is an epic but I think that it lacks the high language and elevated style of story telling that an epic – by the ancient greek definition – requires. Jordan is aware of this. In his own narrative Thom, the gleeman, speaks often of 'High Chant' which is the only real way to recite the epic poems that he knows. He laments that only the scholarly really care to hear it though.
Another example of a sweeping epic is Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. Erikson's world is at least as fully realized as Tolkien's Middle Earth and a great deal more vast. His characters are larger than life, blessed by the gods, or cursed by fate, or, more often, both. They survive impossible odds only to be killed later through unfortunate circumstance. The language even feels almost poetic like reading Gilgamesh or Dante.
The Bonehunters is the sixth book in the ten book series, and, at 1200 pages it is the longest up to this point – though not the longest book.
The Malazan 14th Army, flees across the desert. Sha'ik's last remaining general, Leoman of the Flails, flees before them with the last remaining band of rebels. Behind the 14th rides a wave of sickness and decay. Poliel, the plague godess, is free on the continent of Seven Cities and Adjunct Tavore is determined to hunt down the rebels and escape the continent before the plague catches them and devours her army.
Meanwhile the giant Karsa Orlong sets out on his own quest to hunt down and destroy anybody who would put a living creature in chains. Icarium Lifestealer and Mappo Runt move slowly towards the ending for which Icarium was created by the Lost Ones. Ganoes Paran, newly ascended Master of the Deck of Dragons struggles to understand his new power and to bring some kind of order to chaos that is the war between the pantheon of gods. Trull Sengar, along with a small band of children and the animated skeletal remains of a stone age T'lan Imass fight to keep the throne of Shadow free from his kin who are trying to seize it in the name of The Crippled God. Quick Ben, Kalam, and Fiddler, the last of the Bridgeburners, meet up with Apsalar – the shadowdancer – and are forced to decide whose side they are on in the political games of the Empire. The gods are at war and destruction rains down on all sides. The loyal are hunted and destroyed and the betrayers are elevated to heights of power.
This is only a very brief summary of a few of the main characters in this book. Robert Jordan was fond of saying, “If I could have summarized the story in a few paragraphs I would have only written a few paragraphs.” This is an epic that could not be told in a shorter format.
While I didn't think this book was quite as tightly plotted as Midnight Tides it is definitely Erikson's best writing so far. The annoying traits of his style that seem to grow less and less with each book are still there but, true to trend, happen less frequently. I think the most annoying thing is his proclivity with dropping subject and verb from his sentences in moments of action. I think that he figures that shorter sentences make things faster and more intense. It actually slows me down because I keep reading the sentence over and over trying to figure out what it's about.
Thankfully these flaws are fewer and fewer in this book. Hopefully they'll be completely gone by the time the series is finished.
I seem to like this series more the more I read it. Unfortunately a person has to read over two thousand pages before they start to understand the scope and scale of the story and really start to enjoy it. I think that most people will have a hard time getting through those first couple of books to find the real magic that lies beneath. It is a true epic.
I am constantly amazed at the forethought of the founding fathers of our nation. As frustrating as our government is at times there are very good reas...moreI am constantly amazed at the forethought of the founding fathers of our nation. As frustrating as our government is at times there are very good reasons to have it the way it is. The government of the United States is every bit a bureaucracy and many times reacts with a ponderous and apparently comical slowness. Even this has its reasons.
Imagine if the government made snap decisions the way people do in their daily lives. Somebody cuts you off on the road - you honk at them, or maybe speed up and cut them off. If somebody makes you mad you react. Right after the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001 young men rushed out to join the military, any branch they could get into. “Make the Middle East into a glass parking lot,” was on everybody's lips. Revenge. Show them Muslims what real Americans can do.
Thankfully the government of our country does not react with that kind of gut-level trigger-happy emotion. Things take time, move slowly and by the time a reaction is implemented rationality has set in. This doesn't always work perfectly but it tempers us so that hopefully, for the most part things tend to ride in the middle.
What if we didn't have those kinds of checks and balances. What if every citizen truly had a voice and the decisions of the worlds most powerful country could be made by the gut instinct reaction of the American citizens?
Tracy Hickman has imagined such a world in his book The Immortals.
In the year 2020 the United States is not a pretty place. The president turned nuclear weapons on Texas when the governor tried to secede from the nation, the entire city of San Francisco was destroyed to stop a gay rights riot. Martial Law has been declared and congress disbanded in the face of a virulent epidemic called VCIDS.
All those infected are rounded up and taken to live in camps in the desert in southern Utah.
These people are declared 'predeceased' and regarded as already dead by the United States government.
Michael Barris does not have VCIDS. His son does. Michael sneaks into the camp at Newhouse to find his son, and finds so much more than what he came for.
I've heard Tracy Hickman say that this is his favorite book that he's written. In his afterword he mentions that he talked about this book to publishers and agents for years and they laughed at him or told him the idea was terrible. Even some of his friends questioned his rationality. I think the reason is that it is such a departure from his usual material. One of the publishers he mentioned it to asked, “Why would you write something so serious?”
Tracy Hickman is a best selling author. Along with Margaret Weis he created the Dragonlance series of books for TSR and has been one of the most influential writers in the fantasy genre. He's very nearly a legend.
The Immortals is not fantasy. It is science fiction, but only in the setting. In its heart it is an immensely powerful story of forgiveness, and finding peace in a dark and violent world.
I must admit to some trepidation when starting this book. I'm not a fan of Tracy Hickman, though I respect the contributions that he has made to the world of fantasy. I don't really like his writing style. About halfway through this book something changed. I began to realize that his book was not just an adventure or a dystopian story. This book means something. It transcends the medium on which it exists. Tracy Hickman's magnum opus, if you will, that, once you are aware of it, carries a weight that pulls on your soul.
The Immortals is bleaker, and darker and sadder than just about anything I've ever read. It is, as the subtitle so aptly puts it, 'a story... of triumph beyond oblivion.”
In the midst of the darkness are scattered moments of pure and radiant beauty that seem all the brighter for the depth of the blackness that surrounds them.
I find it difficult to know what to say about this novel. It feels like one of those experiences that perhaps others should have. On the other hand, its sort of traumatic in a way that makes me nervous to recommend it to anybody.
I will say this. If you read it then it will change you. If you don't then you have missed something very unique and special but probably aren't any worse off.
Timothy Zahn is, by one specific unit of measure, my favorite author. That is, I own and have read over thirty of his books. That's more than any othe...moreTimothy Zahn is, by one specific unit of measure, my favorite author. That is, I own and have read over thirty of his books. That's more than any other author that I have read, though there are a few that approach that number. This is a skewed scale, obviously. Some authors haven't been writing as long as Zahn and some authors I just haven't known about for as long. Therefore I refer to Zahn by the moniker of a favorite author.
Dragon and Liberator is both a great book and a slightly mediocre one.
First, this book is the poster child for why I love multibook series. This sixth book that finishes up the Dragonback series is one huge climax. This makes it intensely fast-paced – one of Zahn's signature abilities – and very satisfying as mysteries and foreshadowings from the previous five books are all pulled together for this final showdown. A single book can not convey the level of tension and character development that can be put into a well written series. A single book can not drag on an on with the kind of inflated prose that can be put into a poorly written series, either. Thankfully, this is one of the former type.
Which is another fascinating point. These characters really have grown. So much that if you compare them to the way they were in the first book that they don't even seem like the same characters. On the other hand the changes are so subtle that you don't remember changes taking place. This is how people change, we rarely think to ourselves that we need to start seeing the world in a different way. Rather our viewpoints change as a reflection of our experiences.
The problem with having read so many of Zahn's books is that I begin to see recycled situations and scenarios. Even certain character traits tend to get stirred into the new pot. It recalls memories of listening to a John William's soundtrack. When listening to Harry Potter you hear hints of E.T. and Star Wars. Sometimes there are sprinkles of Indiana Jones thrown in. The soundtrack is still new but it's definitely distinguishable as a John William's piece just from hearing it.
Being a John Williams is not a bad thing.
There are a few Deus Ex Machina-seeming moments in this book that, while Zahn apparently planned on them from the beginning, the foreshadowing was so subtle that I literally had to reread those parts to make sure I understood what had happened.
This series has progressed from the first book to become something quite spectacular. Not only do the characters change and grow up because of what happens to them but the story ramps up the danger with each book. I still remember the first time one of the good guys was forced to kill an enemy instead of just outsmart them. It was almost breathtakingly shocking. In this final book the enemy has quit trying to capture Jack and Draycos – it's now a death sentence. In return, Draycos and Jack are taking the war to the enemy. They're in a battle for survival and they've finally come to the realization that playing nice isn't going to cut it anymore.
Jack has fully accepted Draycos' warrior ethic by this point and when faced with a decision to put his own life in danger to save others he doesn't hesitate. He reflects on it while he's doing it and realizes that what he is doing is not because he likes the other persons, or cares for them, but because it is right. This point is a character climax for Jack. He's been conditioned his entire life to look out for himself first and others if they will be useful.
This book was a roller-coaster ride from start to finish. It starts with Alison and Taneem getting locked in a safe aboard the enemies ship and Jack and Draycos arrested on Brum-a-Dum and the action escalates from there into three hundred pages of the signature Zahn avalanche of clever plots and brilliant action.
This book is perfect for people of all ages. (less)
This is a great collection of stories about a country vet in England. Many of them are funny, some are hilarious, and all of them are fascinating. If...moreThis is a great collection of stories about a country vet in England. Many of them are funny, some are hilarious, and all of them are fascinating. If you love animals you’ve probably already read this. If you don’t, you probably wouldn’t like it.(less)