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
I’ve heard some great things about Patrick O’Brian’s saga about Captain Jack Aubrey and his best friend Doctor Stephen Maturin. The movie that was madI’ve heard some great things about Patrick O’Brian’s saga about Captain Jack Aubrey and his best friend Doctor Stephen Maturin. The movie that was made combining parts of the first few books in this series is one of my favorites. The book is written very well, but it is also overwritten.
O’Brian is obviously in love with the art of 19th Century naval warfare. He knows the names of all the sails and lines, which mast does what, the range of each gun and the efficacy of certain strategies. The problem is that he has written a book in which he thinks that the reader needs to know all these things as well.
I love books where I learn things. I especially love books where the things that I learn are useful for understanding the story. By that count I should love Master and Commander, but I don’t.
The descriptions, the explanations and lectures about naval terms, the discussions of tactics, all of them went just a little too long.
This is not a bad book, by any means. The timing is just wrong. O’Brian knows his stuff and he expounds it in beautiful ways that only feel a little bit like exposition. The information is fascinating and useful for understanding later events. It also is just enough too long, every time, to slow things down. A quick explanation can make the next moments even more poignant. A long one can make my eyes glaze over and I find I don’t remember the important bit of information I was supposed to learn.
That’s a minor complaint, though, in a book that is filled with brilliant characters and exceptional seamanship. It’s written in a style that is very much reminiscent of C. S. Forester which fits rather well, it being another series of books about a British Captain of a sea-going vessel during the Napoleonic wars.
O’Brian knows how to tell a story and he succeeds in making a naval adventure that is character based in it’s drama rather than plot driven. I personally think this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing — it is a thing. I like both kinds of stories. In this case it feels unique because it is a book that is firmly rooted in a genre of adventure stories (traditionally a plot-driven enterprise) and makes every event in the book a direct result of the actions of one of the characters. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are the main drivers for most of the action but not all of it by any means and many of the moments in the book come across as anecdotal stories rather than plot elements.
In short this feels like a dramatized naval journal rather than a fictional account. Maturin saves a man’s life by cutting his skull away and replacing the removed portions with a metal plate; Aubrey outwits a French Frigate by making them think a raft is the rear of his ship; and the First Mate is killed while storming a French ship at five to one odds. Each of these things takes up a page or two of narrative where in most stories they would be the triumphant moment for their characters.
What these short anecdotes serve to communicate is that these are stories about sailors for whom crowning moments of awesome are an everyday occurrence. “Get used to this,” O’Brian is saying, “These guys do this stuff all day long.”
And in the end that’s what makes it so good. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are heroes. They have plenty of flaws, each of them, and they are surrounded by other flawed, but mostly good individuals, but they are all heroes, every one of them. Which makes the story that much more fascinating....more
I’m going to start out with a confession that will surprise almost everybody who has never met me or read anything I write.
I am pretty much the biggesI’m going to start out with a confession that will surprise almost everybody who has never met me or read anything I write.
I am pretty much the biggest nerd there is.
That said many of my heroes are nerd heroes. Nicholas Meyer is one of them.
For the uninitiated Nicholas Meyer is the one responsible for making Star Trek good again, or maybe making it good enough to keep going? He wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where, famously, Spock dies. He co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and returned to write and direct in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. He is arguably the reason why the ‘every even number Star Trek is awesome’ mantra started (or conversely ‘every odd numbered Star Trek sucks’).
When I heard he had written memoirs I bought the book without reading anything else about it.
Nicholas Meyer is not the most prolific writer, he’s written a few novels and a handful of screenplays, but he makes up for it in quality of story. Not only are his scripts fun, but they also mean something.
Star Trek, at it’s heart is about something (forgive me if this descends into a rant about the new movies, I’ll try to keep it under check) and, like all good science fiction, can give a message about social, political, economic, and even literary upheaval with power and conviction that is simply not possible in other genre. Throughout its convoluted history many writers have forgotten that but the general sense of Star Trek is a story that is fun and entertaining but also about change, race, slavery, political and religious freedom, equality, justice, etc.
What Nicholas Meyer brought back to Star Trek was that aspect. He turned it into a movie about people aging together, dealing with being obsolete, and in the middle of it he also taught us about revenge, creation, death, sacrifice, and life.
And that was only one movie.
Meyer writes with an easy, friendly voice that made me sad this book wasn’t longer. I would have gladly read three hundred more pages of his stories and memories, even if they didn’t talk about Star Trek. Which is a good thing because there are only three chapters about Star Trek, because Meyer has done other things and he has had other experiences.
This is one of my favorite books. Probably I am biased because he is one of my heroes, but it is also a touching look at the life of a man who has tried to do his job the best he can and the struggles, successes, and downright heartaches that he has had along the way.
Read this if you are a fan of Star Trek, or movies, or writers, or Meyer himself. If you are none of those things then you should read it anyway. It will be worth it....more
Halfway through this book I determined to surprise everybody, including myself and be completely positive about this book.
After all many of my previouHalfway through this book I determined to surprise everybody, including myself and be completely positive about this book.
After all many of my previous problems have been dealt with. Snape proves himself to actually be vindictive this time rather than just acting responsibly and getting labeled by the story heroes. Harry and Ron have mostly grown out of their inability to follow direction or obey rules. (Until Harry starts running off to Hogsmeade despite apparent death threats — this happens after the halfway point of which I spoke.)
There are the silly excuses for Harry not being punished when he blew up his aunt — which would have ended the series in the first couple of chapters, or taken it in a fascinating new direction that could have been very interesting — and the fake tension of Sirius Black escaping from Azkaban. There’s also the complete lack of disregard for children’s safety that seems to permeate every aspect of the series, from the Quidditch games to the Dementors guarding the school (seriously, I though letting children fly around at ridiculous heights with no safety harness was irresponsible, I’d like to know who thought that having the Nazgul wander around the local school grounds was a good idea).
I decided to let those things slide, they’re just inherent parts of the story being told. The irresponsibility of the adults is part of the… charm, I guess you could call it.
Then I got to the one part of the story that completely ruins everything. As soon as you introduce time travel into a story you have to rethink the entire story and what is going on. You have to remove your own mind from it’s locked-in fourth dimensional linear time perception and look at time from above, seeing the whole picture. That isn’t possible, by the way. Very few time travel stories work and that’s because they establish very firm rules for how and why and when time travel works.
The problem with this one is that now we know that this world has the ability to travel in time. It may only be for a few hours and there are limitations but the entire plot of the series no longer works.
All the ministry needed to do, all those years ago was wait for Voldemort to strike somewhere, turn back the clock a couple hours and then be there waiting for him. The attack that killed the Potters and most of the bad history of the world would not have happened. I know there’s a throw away line about the time turner being dangerous and terrible things can happen to wizards who time travel but if that’s really the case then why did they give the power to a thirteen year old girl, however responsible and trustworthy she might be.
Most of the story fell apart at that point. Not just for the book but for all the books. This is a fatal flaw, one that needed to be thought out more cleverly.
There are some really good things in this book, too, that try really hard to cast smoke and mirrors on the giant hole that is the plot and the sleight of hand almost works. Snape has finally descended to the ranks of the nasty, Professor Lupin is the first competent Dark Arts teacher we’ve seen (which isn’t saying much) and is a genuinely likable person. I actually wanted him to continue at Hogwarts at the end — of course he can’t because these books are about Harry not having any adult support except from Dumbledore who mutters asinine cryptic phrases in the place of wisdom in an attempt to keep from ever doing anything himself.
This brings up something else I’m wondering. Who hires the idiots that teach at this school? Presumably Dumbledore, being the headmaster, is at least in on the discussion. However we end up with confused hacks like Trelawney who, admitted by Dumbledore, has only been correct twice and one of those times during the course of the novel — why was she hired for the job? Or the bumbling, Dark Lord sycophant and the arrogant fraud that taught the Dark Arts class in the last two books.
I’ll get back to good things.
Harry’s inability to think of memories that make him truly happy is quite sad, especially coming from the family that he lives with. The Dursley’s are comical and slapstick cartoon characters but they would be a horror to live with and that fact is made poignantly apparent when Harry realizes that Sirius Black might take him away from them. When this becomes impossible and his only true adult friend is driven away because of politics at the end his despair becomes palpable. These are real emotions that Rowling has built up to with panache.
The plot, story, characters, and writing seem to improve with each volume to the point that the books seem to be growing up with the characters (and readers, many of them) which I think may have been a small part of their popularity. Many of Harry’s thoughts echo those of every preteen, even ones raised in loving families.
I’ll stop there before I talk about the undue embarrassment caused by the shrieking letters and the blatant expectation that children who are shy or introverted are somehow less than those that are confident and comfortable, or how…
I’m done. You’ve probably already read it, so you know if you love it or not. This was by far my favorite of the series so far — despite my complaints it was leaps above the previous two books....more
I realize that I am reading these books out of order. Sometimes I’m a little bit obsessive about reading the first book followed by the second. OtherI realize that I am reading these books out of order. Sometimes I’m a little bit obsessive about reading the first book followed by the second. Other times I just don’t care. When I discover a book through the library I usually don’t care. I just read whichever one is available next time I go in.
Hornblower and the Atropos is an excellent work of naval fiction. Horatio Hornblower is given his first command of a ship as Captain. His wife is ready to deliver their second child in a couple days, Lord Nelson has just been killed and the Atropos is in need of a captain to get it into shape for the funeral ceremony.
After Nelson’s funeral the Atropos is sent to the Mediterranean where Hornblower and her crew are tasked with recovering a treasure of sunken gold from one of their own ships out of a Turkish Harbor without letting the locals know what he is doing.
One of the trademarks of Forester’s writing is that he dwells upon the details but he does it in such a fascinating and adventurous way that you don’t realize until afterwards that you have just learned a great deal about life at sea or sailing British naval vessels. In this case he teaches us about politics and tactics while describing the working of underwater fuses and nineteenth century deep water diving techniques.
It is all very fascinating with edge of the seat tension.
I don’t know if there is anything negative to say about Forester or this book in particular. There are setbacks and novel tactics and brilliant bits of ship to ship violence that keep the reader reading while telling it all from the point of view of Hornblower, a conflicted man who loves his family, but also loves his country and might be hard pressed to decide which love is greater....more
Star Wars on Trial is based on an article for salon.com that David Brin wrote a number of years ago. The premise of which was basically a forum for hiStar Wars on Trial is based on an article for salon.com that David Brin wrote a number of years ago. The premise of which was basically a forum for him to rant about how popular Star Wars is and how unworthy it is of that popularity. David Brin is, by all accounts a brilliant author and an incredibly intelligent man — as far as I can tell form listening to his interviews, which really only means that he is confident and well versed in the subjects he talks about. Matthew Woodring Stover is an author of Star Wars tie-in fiction as well as some other things. In this book he sets out to defraud David Brin — in a mostly light-hearted way — of his delusions about Star Wars.
The ‘trial’ is presented as a series of accusations that must be expounded upon and defended against by each side. David Brin presents the accusations and then each of the authors calls on other well-known authors, writers and artist to provide essays in the defense or prosecution of said terms. The format works pretty well for that. Each of the authors present well-written and mostly well-thought pieces. Many of the arguments make sense for both sides, though some of the accusations are just plain stupid to begin with and some of them are indefensible from the start.
1. The Politics of Star Wars are Anti Democratic and Elitist: This first charge is indicative of the style of nearly all of the succeeding charges. If the first three movies are taken without the newer ones then this accusation has little to nothing to stand on. With Lucas’s addition of Episodes I-III he retroactively gave Star Wars a message that was wrong and decidedly uncomfortable on so many levels that it becomes almost shudder inducing. This accusation is almost inarguably true with the consideration of the new movies. (This is why I try, with all my might, to ignore the existence of those new movies.)
2. While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs: This seems like a silly argument to be having. I am not aware, except perhaps in George Lucas’s own mind, of any claims of mythic significance for Star Wars. It most certainly has cultural significance but nothing can really claim to have that until it already does and the argument is moot. That Star Wars is based on myth and heavily leans upon the Campbellian mythos is also understood but I do not see any kind of disconnect between leaning on myth for story material and not having a message or moral to engender.
The problem here is one that much of children’s literature contained for many years. Until the advent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland almost all the children’s books were intended to teach some moral or cultural value to their readers. Then Alice took her dream induced trip down the rabbit hole and readers and writers alike discovered that not all stories need have a message. Star Wars, I think (again speaking of the original three movies), is a story without a message, other than good guys win. (It’s unmistakable, also, that there are definitely unintended messages hidden in there: Luke is a good guy but he wantonly slices his way through anybody that gets in his way, Yoda tells people not to bother trying if they don’t think they can do it, Darth Vader, murderer of millions, can be redeemed and forgiven because… These are no more intentional than the anti government, antiestablishment, slavery loving overtones of the newer films — they’re just slightly less insidious.)
3. Star Wars Novels are Poor Substitutes for Real Science Fiction and are Driving Real SF Off the Shelves: It’s statements like this that make Brin sound like an overstuffed shirt. What is ‘real SF’ anyway? The claim that it is driving this so called ‘real’ stuff off the shelves is also the most ludicrous claim that I have ever heard. If not for Star Wars there probably wouldn’t be a Science Fiction shelf for ‘real SF’ to be driven off of. Unsurprisingly the defense had three authors contribute to debunking this obvious fallacy.
I understand and agree with much of the criticism leveled at Star Wars — especially as I’ve gotten older. Lucas’s callous treatment of life, ethics and logic is almost insulting on many levels. I can get behind most of those arguments about the shortcomings that are inherent in the stories, characters, and scenes. One thing that is completely inarguable, though, is that Star Wars made modern movies, television and books into a market. Without Star Wars we would have none of those things in the same scale that we have them today. The same argument can be used for Harry Potter and Twilight. Despite the flaws, it is inarguable that the number of people that read and enjoy reading books today would not be the same scale had those books not existed. Society loves mediocrity and, as a whole, we love turning our brains off and having fun. Star Wars (Harry Potter, etc.) have provided that for a significant number of the world’s population.
4. Science Fiction Filmmaking has been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas: No argument here, though my cynical nature tells me that Hollywood would have gotten there anyway, one way or another. Movies like Transformers can’t be wholly blamed on Star Wars — Michael Bay and the American public need to shoulder some of that burden.
5. Star Wars has Dumbed Down the Perception of Science Fiction in the Popular Imagination: I’m not really sure what this is saying except that David Brin is embarrassed that the important books that he writes are associated with Star Wars through genre titles.
Most of the world has a mistaken view of science fiction that is not entirely the fault of Star Wars, though I think the argument could go either way. Star Wars, when it first came out, was an attempt by George Lucas to build something that harked back to the old days when he was a child and the pulp magazines put out stories by Leigh Brackett and Jack Williamson about swashbuckling sword fighters that roamed among the stars seeking justice (The Empire Strikes Back was even written, in part, by Leigh Brackett). The argument is that as a result of it’s success the film and television industry has been stuck in that same era as inspiration for their source material.
Again, I think Hollywood would have made the bad choices anyway, it is Hollywood, after all, that’s what they do there. The new science fiction released in film each year is consistently about forty or fifty years behind the curve. In other words the fresh new movies that people get so excited about are based on stories that were written in the mid-sixties. This means that the popular perception of science fiction is at least forty years old — probably fifty. Again, I don’t think I would argue with you either way if you wanted to claim it was Star Wars’ influence that caused this.
6. Star Wars pretends to be Science Fiction but is Really Fantasy: I don’t actually see why this is a problem. It also strikes me as a little bit elitist and hypocritical to accuse something of not being good because it doesn’t follow genre conventions. Raise your hands if you’re surprised to hear Star Wars is fantasy…
7. Women in Star Wars are Portrayed as Fundamentally Weak: There’s actually little to argue here. Leia is smart and amazing in the first movie. She resists torture at the hands of Darth Vader, she mouths off at Han and Luke when they come to rescue her (‘Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?’) and fights off stormtroopers while they are boarding the Falcon. That’s not to say she don’ts have flaws. As an administrator and politician she never once administrates or politicizes but that’s not her fault as much as it is Lucas’s. By the time the new movies came out Amidala is portrayed as a simpering milquetoast politician who can’t really do anything without a man to help her — even if the man is only eight years old. It gets worse from there.
There is a general trend in Hollywood over the last couple of decades where women are given less and less to do and are being shoved into slots that fill cultural stereotypes more than ever. Star Wars is no exception to this backward trend, unfortunately.
8. The Plot Holes and Logical Gaps in Star Wars Make it Ill-Suited for an Intelligent Viewer: Maybe.
Star Wars has plot holes. Some of them so big that you could literally drive the Death Star though them. Stover claims that, according to George Lucas that’s the point. Star Wars is supposed to be inconsistent logically, scientifically, thematically… I’m not sure what it gained by this except that it has allowed fans to spend countless hours devising explanations for the logical fallacies in the universe. If George Lucas created all the gaping holes in his story in order for the authors of the dozens of novels to have more room to explore the universe then he is a genius. I suspect, rather, that they are just plot holes. He threw the whole thing together on a whim, didn’t think too hard about it and was surprised when it became popular. He doesn’t have answers. Fans are much better at that anyway.
My biggest complaint about this book is that the two authors who edit the essays and provide the opening and closing statements seem to have strikingly different agendas. Brin comes off as a pompous fool who thinks Star Wars would have been better if only George Lucas had called him up and taken his advice. Stover treats the whole thing like a farce referring to Brin as a Sith Lord at every turn and cracking terrible Star Wars themed puns whenever the opportunity arises.
The essays themselves are mostly well-written and well-thought pieces. Each author giving some good arguments. Many times I would read the prosecution essay and be convinced that, yes that is all true. Then I would read the opposing view and find myself swayed. In the end I had to come to my own conclusions, which is the point, so in that I would say that this book is a success.
This probably won’t be a popular book, most people just won’t care. People like what they like. If you are interested in examining Star Wars critically, both good and bad aspects of it, then this is one of the better sources to turn to.
I learned a few things. I wanted to headbutt Nick Mamatas (which I think is what he was going for, so good for him). I rolled my eyes at some of the arguments, I laughed at others. It also made me think, which is never a bad thing....more
This may be the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read. That statement is probably true of each of LeGuin’s books. Her skill is truly unmatchedThis may be the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read. That statement is probably true of each of LeGuin’s books. Her skill is truly unmatched by any other writer. The unfortunate part is that beautiful prose is much like great poetry. It can be difficult to get through, rewarding, but difficult. This ends the Earthsea trilogy before she decided to write more books year later. It feels like an ending. Ged is now an old man and sets out across the ocean to discover what is stealing the magic from the world, leaching away the lives of those who have used it for so long. His journey will take him through many strange and beautiful places and his wisdom will always be implacable and unmoving. I have little else to say about this book. It is about change and the folly of vanity and greed. It is also about growing older and less sure, but also wiser and more capable. It is about growing up, maturing, and learning to trust. It is also about love, the ocean and preserving the world for the generations who will follow behind. Mostly it’s about Ged, saving the world once again....more
This is a short novel about a woman in Africa who inherits some money and decides to open a Ladies Detective Agency. The book consists of a series ofThis is a short novel about a woman in Africa who inherits some money and decides to open a Ladies Detective Agency. The book consists of a series of small anecdotes about Ma Ramotswe acting as a private detective, usually by just being sensible. The stories are occasionally humorous and Ma Ramotswe has a weakness for assuming she knows what’s going on immediately — it’s usually a man being unfaithful or cruel — but she is quick to see the truth when she discovers it.
For a light-hearted story that skirts around much of the deeper social and political turmoil that a novel like this could dive into it is entertaining and fun. Smith writes well enough that he is never boring and is frequently quite amusing as a story-teller. So much so that it often reads like an englishman is sitting in the room telling you stories about Ma Ramotswe.
The characters are mostly just broad-strokes stereotypes with amusing quirks that distinguish them, but they are usually only around for a single conversation or occasionally two.
The problem with this book is that it shies away from anything remotely dangerous, either to its characters or to its author. It feels safe and pleasant but in a book that’s about a woman trying to get by in Botswana by doing a job that women just don’t do in Botswana the issues of gender equality, racial hatred and the terrible crimes that can happen in any country that lacks the infrastructure to police it’s population are hinted at and then steered away from.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a fun story but lacks any conviction. Sometimes we want a nice juicy burger with fries and sometimes we want cotton candy. If you’re in the mood for cotton candy, give Ma Ramotswe and the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency a try....more