I’m getting close in reading these books to the point at which I started reading the web-comic. It’s starting to look a lot more like the comic I starI’m getting close in reading these books to the point at which I started reading the web-comic. It’s starting to look a lot more like the comic I started reading a number of years ago.
I’m really astonished with the transformation in story-telling, writing, artwork and world building that Howard Tayler has gone through. When I look back at the scribbles that were the early books and the mess that was the plot of the Blackness Between I find myself more and more baffled at the change for the better that has come along. Then I compare that to the strength that he has brought to his current story lines and I am excited to see where this kind of learned skill and talent will go form here.
Emperor Pius Dei is basically about the machinations of Petey and his flexing of his new godlike ability to predict and orchestrate the event of galaxies. However, it’s told at the level of the people caught in his machinations, people who knew him before he was the eminently prescient fleetmind. The result is a story that feels epic and sweeping while also being intimate and mature.
Howard Tayler has been writing wonderful comics for over a decade. In that time he has not missed a single day of comic strips that are telling compelling stories with fabulous characters, brilliant science fiction and at least one joke in every strip.
There are better artists out there. There may even be better storytellers. Howard Taylor, however, isn’t just an artist or storyteller. He’s an epic space opera cartoonist, and in that particular field, he is the best that there is....more
There are books that are fun and exciting to read. There are also books that explore ideas in depth, providing commentary on some of the passions of hThere are books that are fun and exciting to read. There are also books that explore ideas in depth, providing commentary on some of the passions of human existence. Sometimes a book can be both of those things. The frequency with which Lois MacMaster Bujold is able to accomplish that with her books is astounding.
The Hallowed Hunt appears to be equal parts fantasy thriller and romance story but that is just a cover for what it really is: an exploration of forgiveness, redemption and mercy.
Bujold has a powerful ability to immediately introduce likable characters then throw them into a plot that grips the reader and drags them through without giving time to stop and look around. The fascinating thing about her stories is that she peppers them with details about the world, culture, and history that can easily go unnoticed because the plot is so gripping that anything extraneous falls out of focus.
The Hallowed Hunt is about Ingrey Wolfcliff who was imbued with the soul of a wolf during a pagan ceremony when a small child. Now he has mastered his wolf and he is sent as a sort of bounty hunter to bring the murderer of the youngest son of the king to justice. He arrives to find that the murderer is a young woman named Ijada who has inherited a strange and powerful destiny.
Through the next three hundred plus pages Ingrey and Ijada discover secrets and mysteries that have been buried for hundreds of years and may have been better left there.
This book takes place in the same world as the Chalion books but is located somewhere else in the world and with completely new characters. She has established an interesting trend of writing each book to focus on one of the five gods. The Curse of Chalion was — though not immediately obvious — the Daughter’s book. Paladin of Souls was about the Bastard. Hallowed Hunt is completely and solely about the Son.
Each of the five gods represent different seasons and different parts of the body and different attributes. The Son is about forgiveness, so it is fitting that his book would dwell significantly upon that subject.
Forgiveness and mercy go hand in hand. How many times should we forgive? Is there a limit, a point at which a person has committed a crime so heinous that it is beyond our mortal capacity to forgive?
It’s probable that there is not, though I can easily imagine a number of things that I would have a very difficult time with.
The Hallowed Hunt is rife with characters that have committed truly evil acts and the gods — in this case the Son — beg their forgiveness.
Bujold does not shy away from a world in which religion is as real and important as it was in the Middle Ages of Western Europe. These people think about religion as every aspect of their lives… and it is real. The gods are only able to act through willing servants, people that are able to subject their will to a god’s control. Other times they have to act by sending multiple people to answer the prayers of an individual until one of them comes through.
It has a feeling of controlled chaos. The gods want to help, to make the world right, but they are sometimes thwarted by people who make their own choices.
When a person dies their soul is accepted by one of the gods, otherwise they are sundered, left untethered to a body like ghosts until they fade away into nothing, doomed to exist for eternity as immaterial and thoughtless spirits.
There will be spoilers after this.
There is a beautiful scene in which the corpse of the murdered Prince Boleso is undergoing the ceremony to see which of the five gods will accept his soul. This is done with spirit animals that represent the gods. Ingrey and Ijada are taken together, mentally, to another place where the Son appears and tells them that he cannot take Boleso’s soul because it is infected with a multitude of animal spirits that he has harnessed through similar rites to the one that gave Ingrey his own. The Son asks ingrey to use his own wolf spirit to draw out the infecting animals of Boleso’s soul so that Boleso can be claimed by the Son.
Ingrey finds himself disgusted with the prospect of allowing Boleso, a rapist and murderer who has trod on the lives of countless people on his way to his untimely demise, a chance into heaven.
This is where the Son points out to Ingrey that he is not also without need of forgiveness in his life by asking him if he would rather be judged by “my Father.”
This scene happens early in the book and has implications that echo throughout the rest of the novel even down to the ending where once again Ingrey and Ijada stand, not as judges of good or evil, but as instruments of forgiveness for the gods who require their help and sacrifice in order to claim the souls of thousands of ancient dead.
The message, of course, is one that reverberates through many cultures and is ingrained into many religions around the world: Forgiveness is not a mortal choice, it is our duty.
Perhaps not surprising for a book that is fundamentally about a god called the Son who represents mercy, the hunt and spring time, this is a very spiritual book. It is a book in which the gods are real and nebulous and benevolent in all the ways that make sense. They are also infinitely patient and willing to work with the cracked and broken clay that is mortal men and women in order to save souls and make things right.
I’ve heard many times that The Hallowed Hunt is not as good as the other Chalion books and I can see that it is different. The tone and culture are new and harder to understand but I found it to be every bit as gripping and just as powerful.
Bujold has quickly established herself as one of the great writers and I will forever be grateful for the wonderful stories that she has given to the world....more
I have recently discovered that the reviews that I write about the Harry Potter books are seen as negative and I guess that’s a fair judgement to makeI have recently discovered that the reviews that I write about the Harry Potter books are seen as negative and I guess that’s a fair judgement to make. There are a lot of things to be negative about. One of my favorite things about reading anything is thinking critically about the messages and portrayals that are present. One of the unfortunate problems with that is that having discussion about those things usually doesn’t work. Either people are not interested or they haven’t read the book.
With Harry Potter I find that people are almost alway interested and if they haven’t read the book by this point… well, I think the statute of limitations has passed.
What this means is that I can discuss all my feelings about these books without prejudice (as far as that is possible) without spoiling anything for anybody.
That said, if I don’t like a book I don’t read the sequels. If a book is bad enough I won’t finish it — though I can count the times that has happened on one hand, I’m pretty tenacious.
I like the Harry Potter books, so far. Rowling has a voice that is witty and sarcastic while also being succinct and interesting. The books feel like they should be read aloud, the narrator is so present that she frequently seems to be physical.
It is impossible to pin down what has made these books (or any books) so successful. I suspect that any attempt to ascribe one aspect of the writing to their popularity would be false. It is many things in congress that make the whole. The voice is definitely one of those things. As well are the memorable characters who are almost universally interesting even in their cliches, if only for their names.
The plot and setting and especially the character names in these books are decidedly Dickensian which lends a great deal to the feel of the books. The man who turns into a dog is named Sirius, the woman who becomes an insect is named Skeeter, etc., the largest proponents of evil are named Malfoy, the list of symbolic and literal names is almost endless. The setting is an English boarding school which was almost defined as a literary backdrop by Dickens and the continual mistreatment and vindication by differing parties of Harry Potter resonates very well with Dickens model of Victorian literature.
Rowling also captures the angst, distress and confusion of being fourteen spectacularly.
Harry, in this fourth volume, has become a likable character, showing some restraint and genuine empathy for others rather than the arrogant self-centeredness of the early novels. He still maintains an ugly penchant to judge others on first impressions and an inability to stop snooping around in things that are really beyond his demesne — which is why there is a story — a book about Neville wouldn’t be nearly so interesting.
Ron, on the other hand has become much less likable, coming off as selfish and uncaring most of the time and downright rude on occasion. He is also completely unable (along with everybody else) to see the slavery of house elves as a bad thing.
Hermione struggles to start a movement to free the house elves, one which every other person is completely ambivalent about, including Harry Potter (who should be sensitive to such things having been enslaved in all but name his entire childhood). At first I was hoping that this was an introduction by Rowling of some darker elements into the story, a bit of morality to ask some questions and give the reader something to think about. The problem is that there is nothing to think about. Perhaps this is because I have lived in a world where slavery is not just wrong but one of the darkest kinds of evils but I find I am wholly in agreement with Hermione on this subject. Slavery is wrong. There is no gray area here. It doesn’t matter if house elves like being slaves. Rowling didn’t introduce a morally gray discussion point, she made all of her wizards — good and bad alike — into slavers.
Hermione, in fact, seems to have become not only the voice of exposition but the voice of reason in the triptych that makes up the main cast. She is constantly pointing out to Harry and Ron why Snape could not have been the bad guy, yet again. (After three plus years of blaming everything on him and being wrong every year you’d think they would get over it.) She is also the one who eliminates the easy explanations for mysteries. She is always spouting out plot convenient excuses why electronics won’t work at Hogwarts or why that spell can’t be done in this case.
Despite Hermione’s best efforts (can you tell that she is the one that I identify with the most) Snape and Malfoy are still regarded with suspicion with the added red herring of one of Snape’s old Deatheater buddies. All in an attempt to turn the reader away from the obvious mastermind behind everything.
Rowling is fascinatingly fluid in her prose style and powerfully communicates a variety of emotions and grand schemes. The depth of the plots seem to be lacking, however.
I’ve had problems with the plots of each of the books. The most egregious being the Prisoner of Azkaban which had a world-breaking introduction of consequentless time travel. This book follows that tradition by having Voldemort implement a plan to waylay Harry Potter that is so needlessly convoluted that it borders on mustache-twirling villainy (I know he’s supposed to be a villain, but he’s the dark lord not Boris and Natasha — the kidnapping scheme that he perpetrates with the help of Crouch Jr. disguised as Moody feels like it belongs in an episode of Rocky and Bulwinkle). The plan only worked out of sheer chance, and because Dumbledore is the idiot who happens to be the best player on Voldemort’s team. If Crouch Jr. could make a port key out of an object why didn’t he just use one of Harry’s items, like the Marauder’s Map, for instance? The book and showdown could have ended in the first month of classes without any of the key Deatheaters experiencing any more danger than they did already.
In fact, one of the most glaring problems with the plot (Voldemort’s not Rowling’s — though technically they are both Rowling’s) is that Harry is almost completely helpless by himself. I suspect this is on purpose. It is through his friends that Harry succeeds at everything he does. This is in stark contrast to Voldemort who is also helpless without his vast array of Deatheaters who miraculously survived prosecution and succeeded into places of power while awaiting his return. The clever bit of contrast here is that Harry knows and understands that and depends on his friends to be there and help him. Voldemort intimidates and frightens his friends until he grinds them into dust. However, if Harry had not had help from Cedric in the final task of the Tournament, even with Crouch Jr. keeping him from facing the worst of the maze, he would not have even made it to the port key that was set up for him. Voldemort’s plan, Crouch’s plan, only worked because Harry had tremendous friends and an ability to inspire kindness and friendship in others.
I think as a message to readers this is brilliant. You can’t do everything on your own. Even if you are amazing. The way it works in the story — is a little farfetched.
I applaud Rowling for dealing with some of the emotional trauma that comes with the experiences these children are going through. I especially like that it is Harry’s being nice to Cedric and helping him that gets Cedric killed. The followup to the climax where Harry has to deal with his grief and survivor’s guilt over Cedric’s death is succinct but poignant.
The foreshadowing and misdirection are clumsy at best, almost always flagging themselves as such with an audible dun-dun-dunnn in true 1920’s radio drama fashion. Foreshadowing is hard, though, especially if you want it done subtly (which you usually do) and few authors can pull it off convincingly without hanging a flag on it.
The story feels disjointed in places because each chapter seems to focus on individual crises, one after the other (like ‘who will I ask to the ball?’) but the themes of jealousy and revenge are well-played strongly enough and the teenage turmoil of emotion resonates strongly enough that those things are overcome. Rowling has also improved in her prose style as an author. She will probably never be considered a great wordsmith but that’s not the point of these books — most books that are crafted that carefully lack any entertainment value and exist rather as exposition piece than as storytelling. The result is that among the choppy pacing and the clumsy foreshadowing and obvious red herring the story is never dull and hums along quite nicely.
Harry has the distinction of always being in just the right place to get in on the mystery/trouble/action. It happens often enough that it begins to feel contrived. This is a problem more of the limited viewpoint than of the book itself but it is noticeable.
I would like to reiterate that I like this book. It is a grand adventure and deals with some very poignant emotions in the three main cast members as well as touching on some of the troubles and emotional scars of side characters. As a work of fiction it is an excellent example of adventure.
I have mentioned multiple times that Rowling’s wizard world seems more real than her real world. I think that is part of the appeal of the stories. Harry comes from some kind of fairy tale bad place where he is kept under the stairs, mistreated and belittled in an almost comical and slapstick kind of way that cleverly draws attention away from the darker aspects of Harry’s childhood. (In many ways this is just another aspect of the Dickensian story being told. Abusive family life of young orphans is a trope that Dickens practically created. Going to boarding school to escape is just the next step.) Rowling gives a reason why Dumbledore left him with abusive step parents — apparently Voldemort can’t get to him if he lives with family — but leaving a child unprotected in that kind of situation seems untenably careless. Dumbledore, in fact, continually spouts bits of wisdom without ever putting himself into any danger or actually doing anything useful. He has proven himself completely incompetent as an administrator or a leader. He hired Quirrel and Lockhart one after the other and his choice to bring in Moody and Lupin backfired spectacularly in both cases. Even his choice to hire Hagrid is inspired in it’s ineptitude to do anything for the education of the students. (Hagrid is a wonderful person but he is a terrible teacher, as evidenced by the quality of the class provided by his substitute when he was unwilling to teach temporarily.)
Wizards seem unable to enact basic laws of human decency, having no consequences for slander or outright falsification of facts in news reporters. Rita Skeeter slanders her way through the book until Hermione puts her in a jar — another act which should have some consequences, kidnapping, even somebody as slimy as Skeeter, is a horrible crime.
Hermione, in this book, suddenly has large front teeth and she shrinks them in an attempt to improve her looks. Upon discovering this Harry and Ron suddenly realize that she’s a girl — because they aren’t superficial at all — and ask her to the ball. I have been thinking for several weeks about how I feel about this. On the one hand it seems perfectly reasonable behavior on the parts of Hermione and the boys. Teenagers are superficial by nature. Hermione would be self-conscious of her appearance. These are all real things. I also feel disappointed that Hermione would feel that way. She should know that she can fit in regardless of the size of her teeth — and what if she would have grown into the teeth, now she will have teeth that are too small causing no end of dental problems as an adult.
Finally, Quidditch is boring to read about. Waiting for a Quidditch match to start is even more boring to read about. The first hundred pages are a drag. This realization came as a shock to me. Quidditch is one of my favorite parts of the movies. In a visual medium it is fascinating, on the page it becomes tedious and yet another sports scene.
That is why I am happy to say that after the initial hundred pages this book is entirely devoid of Quidditch.
In conclusion I thought this book was the best of the ones I have read. Each one has gotten better as the series progresses. The movies have given me the impression that this is the high point of the series but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of them....more
I have a lot of thoughts about this book so this is likely to be very long (I mean REALLY long). I have what I consider a strange relationship to TolkI have a lot of thoughts about this book so this is likely to be very long (I mean REALLY long). I have what I consider a strange relationship to Tolkien’s work. I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so many times that I can not even count all of them. Every time I do it is another magical experience that reveals new and powerful things about the world that Tolkien built. However, because of my familiarity with the work I no longer view it with an eye looking for entertainment (though I do still get that from these books more than almost any other) but an eye for analysis and criticism. I see, in The Lord of Rings some powerful Christian allegory — probably unintended as the author states — which come from deep in Tolkien’s subconscious.
I have written essays in college about The Lord of the Rings, I have had arguments and discussions, I have compared it to passages of scripture to find the parallels.
I have done all these things and I have read almost none of the other works of Tolkien in Middle Earth. I read the Children of Hurin, I have glanced through the appendices, reading mostly the genealogy charts of the Hobbits. I have never even opened the Silmarillion, the Book of Lost Tales, the War of the Ring, etc. Somehow I feel that those things will not be as good, will somehow strip away the magic that is contained in The Lord of Rings and make it less potent to me. There is a fear that, beneath it all there will be something that doesn’t make sense.
Basically, I’m afraid that somewhere in all that literature I will find the Tolkien mythological version of midichlorians and my decades long fortress of refuge and wonder in Tolkien’s world will crumble to dust around me.
I have found, however that I don’t need those other works. There is plenty to keep me busy reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
I will try to keep my comments about The Fellowship of the Ring in particular but I may bring in parts of later books if it makes sense.
Tolkien is obviously drawing heavily on legend from around the world, both in theme and content. The Norse, in particular are paid homage to at seemingly every turn. The dwarves, with their love of mines and precious stones and metals and their long beards and blustery attitudes come straight from Norse mythology. As do the elves with their willowy, carefree but sometimes quite sinister demeanor. Gandalf is Odin in all but name, including the hat and staff, his propensity to wander around wearing gray clothing, even down to his giving his own life to save the world — though the means by which he gives his life is much changed.
Tom Bombadil is the Irish Green Man. He wanders about the countryside, older than the hills and takes care of things that grow.
The elves, also, have hints of the Irish legends of the sidhe, with Galadriel being a direct parallel with the Summer Queen. Their perilous nature is hinted at greatly in the way in which Boromir and Gimli warn the company about accepting gifts from them and Frodo mentions on several occasions that the advice of an elf is not always the answer you were looking for. What I find interesting is that Tolkien succeeded in making the elves both perilous, scary, and dispensing with advice of dubious consequence and clarity while also making them wise, kind and generous. They are also frequently misguided and unable to change. Galadriel tells Frodo that his “coming to [them] is as the footsteps of doom,” because at the moment that Frodo enters Lothlorien only two possible futures await the elves. Either Frodo will fail, the Ring will fall into the hands of Sauron once again and his strength will be used to enslave the elves, or Frodo will succeed and the destruction of the Ring will herald the end of the elves power in Middle Earth. They will begin to diminish and will no longer be a force of good and power in the world.
The elves also have names that all sharply connote divinity in some way. The Hebrew suffix ‘El’ meaning God (found in so many real world names like Michael, Daniel, Joel, etc.) is found in nearly all of the elven names: Galadriel, Elrond, Glorfindel, Elberreth. The elven names also hark back to different real world cultures, Celeborn and Haldir are obviously of Irish origin while Thranduil and Legolas are much more in line with the Norse traditions of the fae. These names also line up with the cultures of the elves — Lothlorien elves being much more mysterious and nebulous than their more jovial and physically dangerous Mirkwood cousins.
The story of Beren and Luthien that Aragorn likes so much because of it’s parallels to his own situation is obviously inspired by the poem of Sir Orfeo that Tolkien translated from the original Old English. That particular love poem was so powerful to him that he and his wife share the the inscriptions of ‘Beren’ and ‘Luthien’ on their gravestones.
Aragorn, being the High King has some echoes of Arthurian legend but plays much stronger as a Messiah figure — he comes out of the west ‘with healing in his wings’, as Isaiah puts it in the old testament — even the point of leading the Rangers (the lost tribes) back to their home, healing the sick and claiming his place as King. The Arthurian legends itself have some parallels to Christian themes so the message here is muddled a bit.
Smaug feels like he flew right out of Beowulf.
I don’t know if Tolkien uses the Campbellian monomyth and Hero’s Journey on purpose or not but it’s almost certain that he was aware of Campbell’s work. I suspect as a student of mythology and legend he couldn’t help but pick out many of the same elements of myth that Campbell found. That said, Tolkien employs the monomyth with such subtlety that many times it is hard to identify.
In particular, while Frodo goes through his own Hero’s Journey, beginning with his being orphaned at a young age (the drowning of his parents being a symbolic rebirth and reawakening, aka baptism) all the way to the end and leaving Middle Earth at the Grey Havens, he is not the traditional hero that is usually expected. Nor is he the only character to undergo the Hero’s Journey in these books. Aragorn also goes through many of the same thresholds and discoveries that Frodo does, in a general sense, and it is him that so many fantasy authors have tried to copy in the decades since.
Part of this is one of the themes of Tolkien and integral to the message that he was trying to give to the world. Aragorn is the Hero. He is the lost King returned, fulfilling his prophesied destiny with a magic sword. But Aragorn is not the hero of this story, he is not the one to save the world from unrelenting enslavement and evil. Frodo, a hobbit, the weakest and smallest of the sentient creatures of Middle Earth is the key, the strength that saves everyone — and in the end he doesn’t become a great ruler, or a warrior or a wizard, he goes home and struggles to deal with the heartrending loss of post traumatic stress and the constant reminder that the world is now much bigger than it used to be.
As a further flipping of the common trope of the Hero’s Journey Frodo and Sam have a conversation where Frodo is surprised at Sam’s resourcefulness and exclaims that by the end of the journey Sam will be a wizard himself, or a great warrior. Sam exclaims, “I hope not… I don’t want to be neither.”
In fact all through the book there is a lamentation of the passing of the pastoral life of the hobbits. In true Tolkien fashion with establishing resonances throughout his work the beginning that dwells so long on the Shire and Bilbo’s birthday party is echoed by the ending of the last book. The story of Frodo and his friends doesn’t end when the Ring is destroyed, it ends when the four Hobbits, alone again, return to the Shire and eject Saruman from his industrialization of their home, using Galadriel’s soil and Sam’s gardening abilities to restore it to the pastoral existence they remember.
Sam is not a traditional hero. Sure he puts on the Ring and fights orcs when it becomes necessary and he is fiercely loyal and humble and imminently likable on so many levels that it’s no wonder he is so many people’s favorite character. But he is not the hero, the Ring is not his burden to bear, he doesn’t come back as a wizard or a warrior, but as a gardener and, in the Shire, that’s exactly what he needs to be. Sam has his own Hero’s Journey, crossing his own personal threshold into a wider world when he steps beyond the Shire for the first time and pronounces, “this is as far as I have ever been.”
Leave the warrior business to Merry and Pippin who underwent their own rebirth when drinking from the Entwash (once again water is prominently featured in their change from timid to hobbits to legendary heroes that rally the ents to battle). Leave the brooding knowledge of the wider world to Frodo who can never return to his old life without deep and abiding melancholy. Sam is a gardener, and his journey of discovery that leaves him more confident and more powerful also left him unchanged in what he was. Like Frodo he will never be the same, but unlike Frodo he has the strength to heal and remain, in his core, Sam Gamgee.
Tolkien has an interesting relationship with nature that seems to be both respectful and maybe a little bit scared. Trees in particular he seems to have a great love for that is colored by a deep respect for their sinister qualities. The trees of Lothlorien are described using words that connote light and peace and feel very much like coming home. Far more common, however are the dark, knotted and twisted forests such as the Wood outside Buckland, the Mirkwood that has been twisted by the Necromancer and the Entwood that has fallen into disarray because of the slumber of the Ents. It segues nicely into his seeming obsession with caves. Nearly everything that goes wrong for Frodo and company happens inside a cave or under a forest canopy. This theme is continued from the Hobbit where Tolkien has Bilbo and the dwarves go through a series of underground adventures, each building and falling into a book long thematic chiasmus.
In fact that same kind of chiasmus parallelism is inherent in The Lord of Rings on a much subtler scale than it was employed in The Hobbit — for example, Frodo has to pass through the dark and twisted wood near Buckland in order to leave the Shire and then later he must pass through the dark and twisted tunnels of Shelob’s lair to get into Mordor. In both cases he nearly succeeds and then succumbs (to Old Man Willow in the wood and to Shelob in her lair).
Tolkien’s theme of underground places representing bad things is carried throughout with even places such as Moria and Erebor only being shown in their fallen and darker state. There is a hint of something that once was beautiful and now is decayed and dark. In The Fellowship of the Ring we have the Buckland Wood, The Barrow Downs, Weathertop, and Moria, all of which are underground and where bad things happen.
In fact the entire series is a constant struggle through darkness, trying to find the light, only to be forced by circumstance or evil design back into the gloom and darkness once again.
As a slight contrast to this — in comparison to Tolkien’s dichotomy about trees — hobbits live underground in hobbit holes which are neither dank, dark or musty and in which nothing bad happens.
Tolkien imbues his story with history and verve that it feels absolutely real to such success that few authors are able to imitate the trick, though many have tried. Tolkien does it with almost no exposition and very little by way of storytelling or any of the other common tricks for explicating fantasy history. Rather a passing mention of Angmar or Amon Sul show up casting great historical weight on the places the Hobbits travel to.
In fact many of these references appeared new to me, this time through. Many of them were things I knew, so I must have noticed them before, but they are so subtle that I could not have pointed out how I knew what the significance of Angmar is. Many of these subtle references also color the world more fully than I had realized before. This is not a world where men are sparse. I had always assumed there was Bree and then Rohan and Gondor and that was about it. However, there appears to be a thriving rural community in and around Bree with no central government to police the roads or establish trade and the like. No wonder people were so happy to welcome Aragorn as the High King.
Speaking of Aragorn he seems to be suffering from whatever the opposite of Dunning-Kruger effect is. He’s insanely competent at nearly everything. He just seems to be unable to admit that fact to himself — which is part of his journey. He must find a way to realize that he is, in fact Aragorn, not Isuldur. When given the chance to take the Ring he refuses it and goes on to become the King, fulfilling prophecy and uniting people. All through this book Aragorn is the competent one. Gandalf tells Frodo that the reason he made it to Rivendell was because of Aragorn and that Frodo was actually safer with him than if Gandalf had been there. Aragorn expresses some prophetic ability when he warns Gandalf against entering Moria, telling him that he will not come out alive. He also senses the orcs when they are nearby, many times before Sting starts to glow. In the movies many of these abilities are given to Legolas instead, making Aragorn a much less powerful character — completely missing the point.
That’s the only comparison I’m going to make to the movies.
Tom Bombadil is an interesting character. He speaks in lyric and seems to be completely carefree. In fact it is mentioned that he would care nothing for the Ring and it would not be safe with him because he would lose it. It is also stated that eventually even Bombadil would not be able to stand against Sauron if something were not done. This made me curious, what would Bombadil have done if Sauron had tried to enter into his demesne.
The debate about Tolkien being racist is long and varied. I will say that I can see where some of the complaints are coming from. The evil men in Bree that betray Frodo to the Nazgul are described as swarthy and squinty eyed. On the other hand the Rangers are described as having dark skin so I don’t know if the racism angle is really justified. It is true that the majority of Tolkien’s characters are white males and that is a problem for some people. Tolkien’s world was mostly white males and he was writing a story that was meant to be legend and myth for his native England. Most of the stories that he based his writing on were about white males. I feel certain that he populated his list of heroes with such without even thinking about it. I don’t believe that this points to any inherent racism or sexism on his part. There is much more that has been said about this but I find the question problematic to argue about. There is none of Tolkien’s correspondence that indicates he had a racist or sexist bent (unlike other authors of his time) and he is not alive to ask.
The One Ring is probably the greatest MacGuffin of all time. Not only in its scope of recognizability but also in how powerfully the plot and world depend on its existence and destruction so inherently that this world and story could not exist without it.
Elrond and the Rivendell elves seem to be a mellower version of their intense Mirkwood cousins and a more friendly group than the distant Lothlorien elves. Which bring up the question in my mind: what do elves do all day? They are spoken of in such idyllic terms that it is hard to imagine them doing anything other than hanging out all day long, which would get boring really fast if you had a short life span, but for a near immortal it seems interminable… literally.
Tolkien writes sheer terror like no other author. The scene in Balin’s tomb where Gandalf read the journal sends shivers down my spine and leaves me clawing to get out into the open every time I read it. “We can not get out,” gives me nightmares, every time. In fact the entire Moria passage is grim and terrifying. Starting with Aragorn’s prophecy that Gandalf will not come out alive to the discovery of Balin’s tomb it is a lesson in building tension that finally breaks when the orcs attack. The flight over the Bridge of Khazad Dum with the Balrog on their heels is another part of this story that is genuinely frightening.
I had not remembered that Aragorn and Boromir rush to help fight the Balrog. Gandalf’s desperate attempt to foreshorten the battle and his subsequent plunge into blackness may have stemmed from his knowledge that Frodo needed them more than he needed Gandalf.
Following Gandalf’s death there is surprising little time spent on the emotional impact to the characters. I say surprising because it has a powerful emotional impact on each of them and Tolkien communicates that impact clearly and in so few words that structurally it is difficult to point out where that is done. Aragorn obviously feels the stress of leadership and the weight of the company settling on his shoulders. This is never expressed explicitly, rather it is shown in the way Aragorn’s demeanor changes, the way he interacts with the characters.
Middle Earth is much grayer than people often give it credit for. I hear much malignancy given to Tolkien’s work for it’s simple views of good versus evil, which I argue is at the heart of all epic conflict. Good versus evil is what makes The Lord of the Rings a part of modern myth, a classic rather than a book. But I digress. I have always had the view that dwarves, men, elves and hobbits are good guys, orcs and goblins and trolls are bad guys. However, in the Council of Elrond it is mentioned that Sauron approached the dwarves and offered them rings of power. There is the sense that not everybody present knows which way that story is going to go and many are relieved when they learn the dwarves turned him away (though it’s only to have time to consider, not a blatant dismissal). The elves also, in Lothlorien, are mentioned as dangerous and Galadriel tells Frodo that “long have I desired” to take the Ring as her own. She admits that she would use it to heal her land and keep it safe but through her the Ring would gain great power and replace Sauron with something even worse.
My final thoughts.
This is the story of the ending of a world, the passing of the old world where the numinous and strange give place to the mundane and ordinary. It is the changing of a world of wizards and warriors to one of gardeners and blacksmiths. It is an ode to times past, simpler times but it is a rhapsody to the future. Our world is constantly remaking itself into something new and this is a story about that change. Look back ten years and try to explain our modern world to yourself ten years ago. It almost can’t be done. Tolkien is writing about a world that is passing, many good things (elves, wizards, rings of power) must pass away in order for better things (peace, happiness, comfort) to have their day.
This story ends where it needed to — with Frodo and Sam, leaving on a boat. This is Frodo’s book, Frodo’s story and once he left the book had to end, back where it started, with Frodo and Sam. All of Tolkien’s books deal with this same kind of reflected symmetry. I know that Tolkien wanted The Lord of the Rings to be one novel but if he had to break it, this was the place to do so. Frodo’s book has ended, the Fellowship is broken....more
When I learned that Sanderson’s long spoken-of young adult fantasy about magic based on chalk drawings was finally getting published I didn’t know howWhen I learned that Sanderson’s long spoken-of young adult fantasy about magic based on chalk drawings was finally getting published I didn’t know how to feel.
I like Sanderson’s work. I really do. I think his recent books have been some of the best fantasy that I’ve read in many years. However, I’m also a little burnt out. He writes books faster than I can read them, which gets a little bit tiresome.
Another reason for trepidation was my experience with his Alcatraz books. The Alcatraz books are fine. They’re clean and funny, which few books seem able to accomplish both of, and they have an interesting premise. However, the funny feels very middle school (to be fair that is their audience) and the stories are a little puerile.
That combined with the fact that this particular magic system doesn’t intrigue me the way most of his concepts do left me feeling dubious.
I’m not sure if those feelings were misplaced or not. I think it will take more books to tell. I know with this review and the previous one I’m starting to sound like I can’t make up my mind. Let me explain (I won’t even sum up, even if it is too much.)
Rithmatists are people that draw circles and lines and pictures on the ground with chalk. When they do those chalk drawings come to life and move and portray physical properties — most of them are only able to affect other chalk drawings but some lines and symbols can cross over into the 3D world and even kill people.
Joel is a student at a Rithmatics school (that also teaches other things) and he has studied Rithmatics his entire life. However, he is not a Rithmatist, none of his drawings come to life.
Add to that a Rithmatist who doesn’t want to be, an absent-minded professor who takes Joel on as a research assistant and a serial killer murder mystery and you get The Rithmatist — which sounds a lot like every other young adult novel out there.
First of all this is much better than the Alcatraz books. It is less given to the juvenile puns and jokes that Sanderson loves so much and spends most of it’s time setting up mysteries, that Sanderson is uniquely skilled at.
However, the characters all feel like they are stock versions of Harry Potter characters. Our main character is some kind of pariah at a magic school — famous among the staff, if not the students, because of how his father died. He is friends with the headmaster, has an older mentor who everybody else seems to think is a bumbling idiot and a red-headed friend who doesn’t like school or studying. In the middle of that mix Sanderson throws a red-herring professor Snape look-a-like and it feels like a photoshopped version of a stock photo rather than a custom original.
If you can get over the obvious parallels there are a number of mysteries in the world that keep the story itself intriguing enough that it never becomes a chore to read. The mystery plot makes sense and has a surprising outcome but the world itself has some intriguing questions asked (and only a few answered) to keep the story interesting.
The ending reminded me of Elantris. Not that it is like Elantris’s ending but that many of the events seemed to come out of nowhere and things came so fast and heavy that it felt like the famous Brandon Avalanche of his early books.
All those things aside, the characters, while fitting into broad-strokes molds that feel cliche and trite after Rowling popularized them so effectively, are interesting people in their own ways. They have hopes and fears and dreams that feel real.
Sanderson always writes optimistic books. Even when the world is covered in ash and constantly dark, the story is hopeful, looking towards a better future. Characters usually triumph in the end — his books are not usually about if they will succeed but how. After the darkness there will be a light, etc. This trend continues in The Rithmatist. I don’t find this to be a bad thing. Seeing how his characters pull themselves from the darkest depths is at least half the fun of reading one of his books.
With that in mind, The Rithmatist is one of his most optimistic books yet. The triumph at the end is every bit as satisfying even with the other flaws.
This book has everything that I would have loved as a teenager but that I find mildly tiring now. It’s not bad enough to miss if you’re a Sanderson fan, but it’s not good enough to hunt down if you’re interested in trying his books....more
I had some concerns after the last book in the series that Naomi Novik had lost touch with the story that she was telling and instead had decided to dI had some concerns after the last book in the series that Naomi Novik had lost touch with the story that she was telling and instead had decided to do an incomplete travelog of exotic locations around the world. The fourth book had an ending that packed a powerful wallop but the rest of the book was so mediocre that it felt more like a summary of a book than a book itself.
With Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik has redeemed herself. Lawrence is imprisoned for treason, Temeraire is exiled to the dragon breeding grounds where he is treated like a beast and given very little freedom. Meanwhile Napoleon, with the tactical aid of Lien — the albino dragon from China — leads an assault into the very heart of England with the aim of capturing London itself.
This is the darkest times have been for Temeraire and Lawrence and the black cloud of depression hangs heavily on much of the book. Coupled with the looming threat of Napolean’s invasion that the British seem wholly unprepared to thwart and the prospects of the draconic dynamic duo have never been so grim.
There are hopeful moments, throughout, and the accomplishments of both sides of the war are more than slightly spectacular.
Novik is a brilliant writer who can talk about dragons, culture and war with such confidence that it leaves little question in the readers mind that all of this could be real.
This is a fascinating world, filled with fascinating characters acting out a gripping history wrapped in fluid and smooth prose that hearkens back to the stories of Hornblower. Indeed much of the feel of these books reminds me of C. S. Forester’s work, I think that model is a definite homage with Captain Lawrence being a Hornblower-inspired character, but I think more than the story or character the writing style is what sells this as an epic adventure of British history — with dragons — Novik simply writes like Forester, with all the praise and damnation that implies. I love Foresters ability to spin detail and emotion into an adventure that feels fantastic while being completely realistic. Therefore I have no problem with Novik’s ability to imitate that same feel and language while telling a story that is actually all fantasy and making it feel so completely realistic....more
Two factions of science fiction exist today and their ideas can be traced back to two of the original fathers of the genre, H. G. Wells and Jules VernTwo factions of science fiction exist today and their ideas can be traced back to two of the original fathers of the genre, H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.
Jules Verne believed in writing stories (the term science fiction didn’t exist yet) that were based on real science, as understood at the time of his writing. Many of his stories seem ridiculous today because of what we know now. For example, 20,000 leagues under the sea would be on the far side of the moon on the other side of the Earth. However, when he wrote the stories they were consistent with accepted scientific knowledge.
H. G. Wells wrote stories about things that came straight from his imagination. Famously when H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine Verne accused him of ‘making things up.’ Time machines, invisible men, animal genes spliced with human, are all things that are not even scientific ideas so much as just ideas around which to tell a story and comment on the choices and futures of humans.
Today those two schools of thought have evolved to be called hard science fiction and soft science fiction. Hard science fiction is fiction that poses future tech or science that is possible according to what we know currently of science (physics, biology, etc.). Soft science fiction would be things like Star Trek where the future science isn’t intended to seem real, it’s intended to give the authors a medium by which to express a metaphor.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is a fine adventure that comes across as rather silly in the light of today’s knowledge of the composition of the earth. When it was written, it was part of an ongoing debate about the causes of molten eruptions and what might be beneath the surface of the earth.
It is simultaneously a seemingly silly notion but also treated much more realistically and seriously than any of the various motion picture adaptations.
Jules Verne is eminently readable and mixes his explorations of scientific debate and theory with genuine humor and astonishing adventure with great skill.
You owe it to yourself to read some Verne. If expeditions through dark tunnels in the subterranean world seem too claustrophobic to you then try a trip through the depths of the ocean with Captain Nemo or fly a balloon around the world in 80 days. Whichever one you pick you will be treated to a great adventure that requires only a little suspension of disbelief as you readjust your sensibilities to the late nineteenth century....more
I think this was a really good book. I don’t know if I can be any more certain than that.
I had heard that it takes a working understanding of quantumI think this was a really good book. I don’t know if I can be any more certain than that.
I had heard that it takes a working understanding of quantum physics and string theory to make sense out of what is going on. Which intrigued me and scared me in so many ways I can’t even start to explain. I have a Master’s Degree in Optical Science which is a branch of physics. I am a cautious friend of quantum physics and I met string theory at a lecture somewhere. That is to say, I’m not a physicist but I know more about this subject than perhaps the average bear.
It took me one third of the book just to understand what the goal of the characters were and two thirds to start to grasp how the world worked, what was going on and what to expect.
Then the whole thing changed and the climax turned the world upside down, destroyed everything I thought I knew, punched me in the gut, knocked me down and stole my wallet.
While I was reading the last few pages I was thinking, “Okay, I see what’s going on, I think I finally go it.” After I closed the book I tried to think how I would explain this book to another person and I drew a blank. The world in which the characters exist is so foreign and alien to me that I can’t describe it. I can’t even summarize the plot because I can’t comprehend it.
I understand what happened and it was very exciting, but I don’t comprehend it.
Which bring me to something that this book made me think about. Years ago (I don’t know how many) Vernor Vinge coined a phrase and an idea that he called the Technological Singularity. The idea of the Singularity is that at some point in our future our technology will become so advanced that we will no longer be able to comprehend (to grok) it.
This is similar to the oft misquoted Arthur C. Clarke phrase, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
An example of that would be if a person were brought from the early 20th century to our modern day he or she would be able to grasp much of our technology. Cars, planes, trains, electric lights, television, radio, etc, would be much more advanced than in his or her day but would be extrapolations of scientific concepts from his or hertime. However, explaining the internet to this person may be impossible. (I had a personal example of the technological singularity a couple of years ago when I took my ~85 year-old grandfather-in-law to an Apple Store. He marveled at how clear the reception was on the displays, completely missing my fervent explanations that there was no reception.)
If we were to go back farther still to the beginning of the 17th century then things like televisions and radios and phones would seem magical and strange to those people.
Likewise if we postulate a continuation of this technological growth into the future, at some point technology will no longer be comprehensible to modern man. Sure the people five hundred years from now will understand how to use it, make it work and maybe even how it works, but we would not be able to.
In order for a person to write science fiction that takes place in the future that author must decide if he or she will choose to ignore the technological singularity, or embrace it. Embracing it presents a series of difficulties, as one must then imagine a technological world that is incomprehensible, and then write about it in a way that the authors understand what’s going on when people use technology that is so advanced that they can’t possibly understand it.
The Quantum Thief is definitely a post-singularity novel. The first few chapters are so riddled with new technology and terms that it begins to cause minor anxiety issues in the reader. I nearly gave up at this point as I didn’t want to read an entire novel that I couldn’t understand.
However, perseverance paid off. I say this despite my noncommittal claims at the beginning. The novel picks us up in the middle of a future that has had a long past and technology has changed it so many ways that many of people’s interactions are no longer even recognizable as forms of communication to our pre-singularity brains. After a while the reader starts to catch on and slowly a mystery begins to unfold, one that had a staggering amount of planning in the beginning and will have shocking repercussions.
Hannu Rajaniemi has a quick and beautiful writing style that feels both fluid and sharp. The words flow around the concepts and future tech and guide you into a world that you can not possibly understand. And then, somewhere along the way you realize that you kind of do understand it. It’s tied up in quantum resonance and string theory, much of it, so comprehension is limited but Rajaniemi makes you understand. By that I speak from my own experience. The seemingly possible has been accomplished. I felt like I understood this post-singularity world well enough to know what was going on, to be awed by the audacity of the climax and to find the heist (which depends so much on the technology) exciting. However, if asked I could not explain the technology to anybody.
Rajaniemi’s prose is exquisite, his story is quick and fascinating and his characters have secrets layered on secrets with a fresh patina of more secrets on top. The main character, Jean Le Flambeur seems to be an overconfident relic who was once a famous thief, but things are not what they seem.
That said, this book left me exhausted. I don’t enjoy post-singularity stories for the simple fact that I like to know what is going on. There is a certain amount of joy gained by learning to understand a world and it’s far-future tech but it seems negligible to the satisfaction of a good story in a universe that I can comprehend.
I find myself unable to recommend this book but also unwilling to discourage others from reading it. If it sounds intriguing then give it a try, many people love it unconditionally. I found that, though I enjoyed it, it wasn’t for me....more
The duo that makes up James S. A. Corey has created one of the most exciting series of science fiction books being published today. They’ve successfulThe duo that makes up James S. A. Corey has created one of the most exciting series of science fiction books being published today. They’ve successfully mixed real science, space, politics and combat into a stew that’s lightly seasoned with good old fashioned horror.
Caliban’s War is the second story in the The Expanse and picks up nearly a year after the first book ends. The solar system is still in turmoil over the discovery of the alien protomolecule and Mars, Earth and the outer planets are tiptoeing about the edge of the bowl of war. The bowl tips when a Martian marine troop gets attacked and nearly completely destroyed by a protomolecule monster.
The story starts up at that point with the familiar crew of the Rocinante, throwing themselves into the middle of everything when they befriend a botanist whose daughter has been kidnapped from Ganymede on the verge of an economic and ecological collapse. Bobbie Draper — the only surviving marine of the monster attack — finds herself as an adviser to a United Nations representative on Earth and all of them are trying their best to see that the solar system doesn’t erupt into war that would mean the death of millions.
The very real portrayal of humans fighting amongst themselves in the face of extinction is powerfully portrayed, if a touch cynical. In fact, the story and the setting are probably the best recommendations for the novels. The setting feels something like a higher budget version of Babylon Five melded with a surprisingly clairvoyant projection of the future. The setting is probably the most compelling aspect of the story. It feels real in execution and evolution, augmented by the fact that the ships hurtle through space according to actual laws of physics and people spend their lives dealing with the changes in gravity that accompany travel amongst the planets.
The weak point of this book seems to be the characters. There are very strong character developments for each of the individuals in the story that come organically from the evolution of their experiences. However, the characters come across as somewhat drab and unmemorable.
Holden, the only viewpoint character from the first book, has become more cynical and decidedly cruel and has to learn to deal with his own trauma and fears that are changing who he is. However, he comes across as sort of thin and see-through, like a transparent Star Wars hologram that flickers and dies occasionally, or butter that has been scraped over too much bread.
Avasarala is a UN politician of indeterminate political power and position who resembles an elderly grandmother and throws her weight around by swearing at everybody at the most inappropriate times. This could be an interesting choice for a character as she uses the foul mouthed sarcasm as a defense mechanism to help others take her seriously, however it becomes her only distinguishing feature and quickly wears thin as her choice of language becomes so offensive that it is difficult to sympathize with her.
Bobbie Draper is a marine and is only interesting in that she is a female and is enormous enough to scare most people, which is sort of a gender reversal. She does have some traumatic reactions to her experiences which are refreshing to see but it never goes very far before she has moved on and thrown herself into following Avasarala around the solar system while they try to avoid a war that their own allies are all too happy to start.
The other characters are good enough for the roles they play but are not anything special.
The weaknesses are overcome by the strength of the story and writing. This is definitely not a character driven story, as it would quickly fall apart if the characters were the center of import. However, this isn’t a bad thing as the story they are thrown into is interesting enough that following passive, cranky holograms around the solar system doesn’t matter as the adventures, troubles, and sheer terror that they experience is enough to keep the pages turning one after the other until the final explosive, horrifying climax.
Corey doesn’t hold back and the disasters are liberally sprinkled with moments of terrifying revelations interspersed with euphoric heroism.
In Leviathan Wakes the science fiction space opera was told as a noir murder mystery that evolved into a horror story. In Caliban’s War the adventure of space opera is firmly rooted in the grips of a political thriller that is holding hands with an X-Files conspiracy theory.
If you need strong characters to enjoy your fiction then you might have a problem with these books. The characters are not annoying or unrelatable, they’re not even cliché cardboard puppets, they are merely hollow so that they have three dimensions but seem only partially in focus or incompletely present. I don’t know how else to explain how the characters feel without falling back on metaphor. Suffice it to say that the characters are fully realized but not fully present in the book.
The story and setting are worth any number of flaws and the writing is strong enough that it is almost impossible to put down once begun....more
I don’t really know why this book gets such high praise in literary circles, or rather, I do know why but I don’t understand the blind acceptance of iI don’t really know why this book gets such high praise in literary circles, or rather, I do know why but I don’t understand the blind acceptance of its flaws.
The Road is a post apocalyptic tale of a man and his son walking down a desolate road seeking the ocean, or maybe food, or maybe other people, or probably just death because that’s all that’s left.
The biggest flaw of the book is McCarthy’s artistic sensibilities which make the book difficult to read and overweight at only a couple hundred pages. He refuses to give the two characters names. They are The Man and the The Boy, which gets confusing when they meet other men and boys. There are also no dialogue tags. McCarthy eschews the use of such pedestrian phrases as ‘the man said’ so that the reader can tell who is talking, which becomes moot eventually as every conversation is a variation on the first one, the boy is scared, the man reassures him, the boy is still scared, the man doesn’t listen to him. McCarthy seems to also be above punctuation. When you’re Cormac McCarthy you don’t need to follow the rules.
Using detail to tell story can be a powerful tool, as anybody who has read “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien can testify to. However, McCarthy falls victim to using the detail in such repetition that it becomes unplanned self parody. Each fire that must be lit, each drink of water, even the tying of shoes must be described in detailed, short sentences so that every action could be painstakingly recreated by future generations.
The Road is often used as an example of a literary author dipping his toes into science fiction. If this is the result I’m not sure it’s worth it. McCarthy is blatantly vague about the cause of the apocalyptic collapse, or even of how long it’s been (about as long as the boy is old, which is never stated). Instead of a story about how humanity deals with disaster or the survival of the human race in the face of devastating adversity, or even a metaphorical exploration of the condition of human refugees (which the story is trying hard to be) it comes across as a dry and humorlessly depressing treatise on the hopelessness of life caused by sheer over attention to detail.
Now spoilers, for those who care.
The boy in the book exhausts every conversation, page after page, too scared to explore abandoned houses in case people are there, asking his father not to go looking for food because it’s too dangerous. Then, when his father dies and a crazy wild man hops out of the woods to save him and adopt him he shrugs his shoulders and goes along, suddenly over his fear of strangers now that the man is dead. It felt like an unfair change of character in order to offer a sliver of hope at the end of a story of hopelessness. Which, if the hopelessness that the book spent so much time packing into the open wounds of despair was the point, then it is undermined by this ending. If the point was that you just need to trust people then the lesson falls flat as every other person up to that point in the story has tried to betray or kill them for personal gain.
I can’t really recommend this book if you’re looking for something entertaining or something to teach you about humans or raise questions about human nature. If you like McCarthy’s over indulged ‘artistic’ style then you’ll probably like this one as well....more
The bad puns for titles is kind of old already. I know from seeing titles of future books that this doesn’t end here — maybe not ever — but it is a liThe bad puns for titles is kind of old already. I know from seeing titles of future books that this doesn’t end here — maybe not ever — but it is a little smarmy, like it’s trying to sell you something. To be fair the bad puns and painful jokes continue through the text of the book so the titles are advertising the contents of these books pretty well.
I’ve been told by multiple people that the Dresden books start getting really good with the fourth one. I’ve been holding out for that as the judgement point for the series. The first three books I found to be lacking in a number of ways. Each one has improved significantly from it’s predecessor, though.
With Summer Knight Butcher has obviously learned a great deal since he started writing and has concocted a slew of situations and conversations that reveal important information just in the knick of time for the coming action, revelation, surprise return of a previously unknown character, and other plot points to not seem pulled from thin air. The trouble with this is the same trouble I get with other long running series where the past of the characters is not planned out from the beginning. Dresden doesn’t wax eloquent about his past very often. This means when Butcher wants to give us a surprise encounter with somebody from his past Dresden mentions that person to one of his acquaintances, one chapter before she shows up in his apartment for some poignant banter and plot progression.
There’s isn’t anything particularly wrong with this tactic for story telling except that Butcher does it so often that the author starts to show through and it begins to look like author tricks instead of organic revelations of past life experiences.
Butcher’s author tricks are not the annoying kind so, while they pull me out of the story while I say “I see what you did there” they don’t make me stop and put the book away (a la Dan Brown).
Dresden and Murphy have one of the few male/female relationships in fiction that is not romantically motivated by either member. This is refreshingly rare in so many ways that it’s hard to believe most of the time. The problem is that Dresden seems to be incapable of describing any female character without talking about body type, and how shapely she is. This is only obvious because very few men get that kind of detail of description. It comes across as sexist and it’s hard to tell if it’s a character flaw of Dresden (since it’s written in the first person) or if Butcher just didn’t realize what he was doing.
All that aside this is a much better book than the previous ones. I enjoyed it more. That’s not to say I loved it but it wasn’t bad enough to make me give up on the series. The plot seems to be more thought out, the mystery more believable and Dresden doesn’t get completely ruined in the first chapter and spend the rest of the book barely scraping by against all odds and summoning just enough power to blast a million vampires to molten death after failing to light a lamp because of his previous drubbing like he did in the others.
I find the fact that he never has any money, never eats, rarely showers and also never charges his clients to be a little too heavy handed on the depressing-life side and leans more toward farcical instead. I suspect that’s a fragment of this urban fantasy showing its noir detective roots, though.
I liked this one more than the last and I will probably read the one that comes after....more
I do not love this book as much I would like to. It’s not solely to do with the contents of the book, or rather it is, just not in the way it sounds.I do not love this book as much I would like to. It’s not solely to do with the contents of the book, or rather it is, just not in the way it sounds. Dan Wells made a name for himself by writing a series of books about a teenage sociopath who uses his emotional disconnect with people to hunt down monsters that are stalking his home town. They’re good books and more than a little terrifying. With The Hollow City Dan Wells is exploring the disability of schizophrenia the same way. I worry that he will be perceived as the guy who writes about psychological disorders.
He has written other things, so maybe I worry in vain.
The Hollow City is nowhere near as bloody and downright terrifying as the Serial Killer books were. Those books left me almost physically drained from stress after reading them. The Hollow City is more of an exploration on what it is to be schizophrenic with so much misdirection and unreliable narration that as the reader I began to question what is real. How much of life is just our color of experience and how much really happens. It’s only a mildly interesting philosophical debate for somebody who is at least somewhere within the bell curve that we’ve chosen to define as normal. For a person who experiences people and things that do not actually exist to anybody else the question gains a striking poignancy.
This book is tremendously short and a very fast read but it also takes a while to simmer into motion. The first two thirds of the book are an interesting tale told from the point of view of a schizophrenic man trying to come to terms with his reality and gain back a normal life. For the last third things kick off in high gear and go from mysterious to weird to just plain… plain. I guess that is the best word for it. The ending holds the dubious honor of being unexpected, inevitable — given the condition of the narrator and events leading up to it –, and shockingly disappointing at the same time.
I’m afraid to say anything else in detail since much of this book depends on revealing secrets and mysteries — two of which are given away in the jacket blurb.
I can say that I enjoyed the book, right up until the ending. The ending left me feeling incomplete, like toast without the butter or pizza without the cheese. I thought it needed something more but at the same time there isn’t more to give. Dan Wells kept me reading straight through and I found the point of view fascinating and the confusion and existential dilemma to be very present and real. The mystery and the twists in the plot were exquisitely done.
The one problem I noticed with this book was that the setting never felt real. I’ve noticed this in Dan Wells books before. Everything seems to have a feeling of blank white room about it so that even when wandering through a city it feels empty like the buildings and people only exist within the sight of the main character but the rest of the world fades to grey. I think this comes from the sparse prose style that Dan Wells uses. He doesn’t dwell very much on setting and scenery and thus it feels transparent, like a hologram. I can’t decide if that’s on purpose or not. I noticed it a little bit in the Serial Killer books but in Partials the setting and scenery seemed to be fully imagined and very concrete. Perhaps the illusion of emptiness is part of the main characters disorder or maybe it’s part of the stark and illusory feel of the book. If it is on purpose then it is excellently done at building a sense of traversing through an imagined realm, a hollow city, if you will.
I would recommend Dan Wells to anybody who hasn’t read his work before. If you have then you don’t need the recommendation....more
Sometimes I just like things even though I’m catching all the signals that are usually detractors. Monster Hunter International is one of those.
LarrySometimes I just like things even though I’m catching all the signals that are usually detractors. Monster Hunter International is one of those.
Larry Correia is obviously a first-time writer. He uses way too much passive voice — during action scenes, even — and some of the dialogue comes across as awkward and weak. The story follows some of the biggest cliches in the business of storytelling (the physical rival of the main character happens to be the boyfriend of the girl that the main character has a crush on, with predictable results).
However, it was actually kind of good despite that. I can’t help but compare it to the Dresden books by Jim Butcher — not because it’s really anything like that but because it’s in the same genre. There are some striking similarities. Owen Pitt of Monster Hunter International is basically a more heroic version of the author, down to his physical description. (Dresden doesn’t look like Butcher but he has many of the same interests and hobbies.) This is also a world with mythical monsters where the secret is supposed to be kept form the general populace.
The difference is that Owen and his friends at MHI are not out to use magic or talk their way out of trouble, they use guns. The bigger the better.
As you might imagine there is a fair bit of violence in this book. The B-movie horror plots are piled nearly as thickly as the spent shell casings. The monsters come in ever increasing waves of scary.
The biggest difference I see, though, is that I actually like this book. Owen Pitt is an imminently likable person and he is surrounded by a team of really fun people. Things get bad, in fact they get downright terrifying at times, but through it all Owen and his friends build a relationship with each other that somehow includes the reader so that at the end I felt like I was part of the team, ready to go kill some monsters.
I think this as close to understanding the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ that I’ve come. I know that this book will not change me in any way, it will not make me a better person — though it won’t make me a worse one either — it’s just fun and explody, with lots of guns. There’s even one that hums ominously telling me that Larry Correia is a Schlock Mercenary fan which may have been enough to win me over all by itself.
I don’t know what else to say. If you’re in the mood for the literary version of a summer blockbuster action movie, then this is it (without devolving into the stupid that much of summer action movies fall victim to)....more