The first time that I read A Thousand Words for Stranger, I was about middle school age. I was pulled in by the title, as I recall, and I loved the bo...moreThe first time that I read A Thousand Words for Stranger, I was about middle school age. I was pulled in by the title, as I recall, and I loved the book! This was space opera before I knew what space opera was called, and all that I knew was that I loved it. The world of competing cultures and fantastical alien races gripped me thoroughly. I don't think that I finished the book, which is extremely rare for me (I can count on one hand the number of books that I've began but not finished in my life), but, on this recent second reading of the novel, I found that I eventually crossed a point beyond which I remembered nothing.
I also found that the book read quite differently over twenty years later.
I'll say up front, this is Czerneda's debut novel, and debut novels seldom carry the strengths of an author's later works. That disclaimer out of the way, what she does so strongly in this book is to create such a wildly imaginative world (that will be the basis for a series, the rest of which I own but have never gotten around to reading). In these pages you will find creative new aliens, worlds, and cultures, which are painted with prose that, while perhaps not literary genius, certainly has its flashes of brilliance. I had no difficulty soaking in the scenes that were being painted for me here, and, were I to identify a single strength of the author, this would be it.
The alien race with which we become most familiar is the Clan, a race that looks Human, but is a race of reclusive, arrogant, and very powerful telepaths, who consider themselves far above races without telepathic abilities. They look down on the use of technology, seeing it as a tool that inferior races use to place themselves onto somewhat equal footing with more advanced races. This is an interesting theme to develop in a science-fiction novel, that of technology being viewed as inferior to natural, organic abilities. Certainly, it's been done before, but Czerneda explores it well here.
The theme that she is exploring more than any other, though, is the power of choice, the fight to master one's own fate. Sira, our protagonist, wakes on a planet with no recollection of who she is, what she is doing...or of what she is capable. When she discovers the truth, finally won as she fights through webs of deception, she discovers that she has become someone entirely new during the journey, someone that she likes better. Will she be able to push back on the powers that seek to set her destiny for her and choose her own? Well, I'll avoid spoilers, but that should tempt you a bit.
The problem that glared at me reading this as an adult is how Czerneda flirts with a romantic sub-plot (pardon the pun). More than the simple issue that romance is not at all a genre that I read, is the issue that she introduces romantic elements, but never brings them to fruition. Romance is a key conflict for storytelling, but it must be permitted to run it's course once it has been introduced. Czerneda feels timid in writing this element, seeming to toy with the idea and then retreat, all while leaving us with about one hundred too many references to Morgan's blue eyes. Perhaps this was a plot point that she was coerced to emphasize beyond what she wished by an editor? In any case, it feels forced, and was distracting enough to pull me away from the story on many occasions.
When I initially placed this book on my Goodreads shelf, I rated it with five stars based entirely on my childhood recollection. Now, with much maturity between readings, that rating falls by two stars. I think that, if you're interested in reading a story with a very spectacular world, then you should give this a try. I think that the rest of the series will get better, and I hope to make time to read it soon. (less)
Slightly out of date, this book is an illustrated and wandering account of the UFO phenomenon in its heyday. Curran documents the beliefs and strange...moreSlightly out of date, this book is an illustrated and wandering account of the UFO phenomenon in its heyday. Curran documents the beliefs and strange engagements of those who dabble in building rockets at their gas stations, as well as those who ascribe to "UFOlogy" as a religion. In fact, the unabashed frankness at which he reports the beliefs of these cults with their twisted para-theological belief systems is what makes the book educational. An easy read in a magazine-style layout. (less)
Having grown up enjoying James Bond's adventures as a not-so-guilty pleasure from childhood onward, I quickly snatch up any new Bond novel that is rel...moreHaving grown up enjoying James Bond's adventures as a not-so-guilty pleasure from childhood onward, I quickly snatch up any new Bond novel that is released. I can trace the small handful of authors that have penned 007's adventures from Fleming forward, and, for the most part, all of these authors have gone to great lengths to stay true to Fleming's character. This is the second novel in four years to follow Bond's adventures, the previous by Sebastian Faulks placing Bond in the height of the Cold War with a great depth of character development. That novel was a thoroughly enjoyable and Fleming-like adventure. In fact, Faulkes presented Bond as close to Fleming's creation as Daniel Craig portrays Bond on the screen...that is to say, very much like Fleming's Bond.
This is Deaver's first entry into the pantheon of Bond authors, and the jacket made the book sound exciting and promising, placing Bond in a modern day, post 9-11 world in a rush to stop a terrorist event. The title is acquired from the fact that Bond is, as one of the best-of-the best "00" section agents, given "carte blanche" to complete his mission in any way possible. Deaver explores the political consequences that come with this freedom through the book in realistic and enjoyable detail.
Deaver, in fact, presents a nicely woven adventure, opening in the midst of a massive scale attack on a locomotive that Bond thwarts, and never slowing down through the weighty 400 + pages as Bond attempts to unravel a mysterious event labeled "Incident 20," which is detected in whispers by British intelligence services, and promises mass casualties when accomplished. Deaver incorporates modern technology into Bond's world quite well, and those of us who enjoyed Bond's mid-career movies with all of his gadgetry will be quite enamored by Deaver's imaginative descriptions, as well as all of the occasions that Bond's mobile phone has an app for that. Deaver writes action sequences that are full but never over-stated, and does an excellent job of avoiding gratuitous gore or bloodshed in doing so, while never shying away from Bond's using his well-known "license to kill" (although he never uses that phrase in this novel).
And, I'm sure that Deaver is an excellent thriller writer, with several novels already to his credit. I'm thinking, though, that perhaps he shouldn't have tried Bond. Or, at least, he should have taken greater care to stay closer to the character.
Firstly, Deaver takes liberties with the setting of Bond's adventures, placing him with an office known as the ODG, not MI6, where Bond has always been in his previous incarnations. However, since Deaver brought over the other major and necessary characters with Bond (i.e.: M, Bill Tanner, and Moneypenny), I was able to roll with the punches on this. Deaver also makes a quite interpretive dive into Bond's family history, which, while proving to be an interesting subplot for the story, hung me up at times as being perhaps too great a liberty taken with the character.
Secondly, and most importantly, Deaver overuses a device to frustration in his storytelling. We're led to a catastrophic event on several occasions in the book, breathlessly realizing that Bond has failed in his task to enormous consequences and loss of life, only to discover in the following chapter that he had actually swooped in and taken everyone to safety moments before the explosion. This was interesting the first time, odd the second, and actually made me want to stop reading after numerous other usages (and I've read at least one other review indicating the same frustration). This was complicated by the fact that Bond's last minute victories were accomplished through forethought that is just simply untenable, as we're taken back through previous chapters and told that his actions were actually to secret away a device that he would need later, or to obtain information from another character through that conversation that we thought meant something else. This is just unworkable in the reader's mind, despite the fact that we're dealing with a larger-than-life character.
And, along the lines of Bond being a larger-than-life character, thirdly: Bond is presented here as a "knight in shining armor" sort of character. This is accurate to a point, as he is driven to prevent an attack and save the lives of thousands of people. However, Fleming's original cold and calculating Bond who follows orders, manipulates others without hesitation, and doesn't spare lethal force, is missing here. Deaver tries to present Bond this way at times through various descriptions, but the descriptions are found to be at odds with Bond's actions and moments of conscience.
Ultimately, Deaver presents a good story idea that is marred by poor execution of plot twists and very unsuccessful attempts to place a modern re-interpretation on a classic character. I'm not opposed to re-interpretations, but they need to be good ones. The book is well structured and well-paced, and the concept of the story is gripping. The book would make an average-quality Hollywood movie that most casual Bond viewers would likely enjoy.
Unfortunately, casual Bond viewers aren't typically the ones (I don't think) who read these books. The long-time fans are, and we tend to be purists. As such, we will find ourselves disappointed in Deaver's offering, which is, in the end, only a mediocre delivery.
If you're a general thriller, suspense, or espionage fan, this may be a good book for you. If you can remember and name all of Bond's major arch-nemeses throughout his career, as well as your favorite weapons, then it may be a waste of your time.
The Leftovers was an unknown book to me until a friend mentioned over coffee one evening this confusing book that had been loaned to him by one of his...moreThe Leftovers was an unknown book to me until a friend mentioned over coffee one evening this confusing book that had been loaned to him by one of his friends. He mentioned it a couple of times over the next few weeks, and consistently referenced that, while it was an easy read, he just couldn't figure out what it was that the author was up to. Because of my background, though, he had sought his friend's permission to loan the book to me in turn when he finished, because he was interested in my opinion.
The premise of the Leftovers is this: a Rapture-like event called the Great Departure has occurred, and the story picks up with those who have been (pardon the cliche) left behind. Except this event didn't mesh with the Rapture of Christian theology, because people of all faiths are missing, just as many Christians are left behind. Obviously, the world toys with falling apart, and many individuals do just that. Perrotta centers his story on the citizens of one mid-western U.S. town, Mapleton, and how they survive and move forward.
Many religious cults begin to manifest in this future world that Perrotta spins, and all of them seem to emerge from a similar motivation: they are all attempting to correct whatever it was that had been missed in the first place. There's the Guilty Remnant, a fascinating idea for a group of characters, consisting of white-clad watchers that smoke cigarettes and mutely stare at you to remind you that you shouldn't be moving on with life or forgetting what they feel God has done. There's the more humorous Holy Wayne, who marries a few teenage girls and manages to get one pregnant with what he predicts will be the miracle child that will save the world. And, there's the more down to earth pastor whom, unbelieving that he has devoted his whole life to God and yet been deserted, begins to self-publish a newsletter exposing all the sins of the people who vanished, as though to find an outlet for his bitterness.
The Leftovers isn't a heavy read at all, but each evening I picked it up was a struggle. I hefted the book from the coffee table and generally grumbled about how unfair life was and why I should have my head examined for pushing through this thing. In fact, I have difficulty remembering the last time I struggled so much to simply finish a book. This is in contrast, however, to the last twenty pages, which I suddenly found nearly impossible to put down. So, to say that the pacing felt a bit odd to me would be an understatement.
One of the reviews on the book jacket describes Perrotta as the "Steinbeck of Suburbia," and I'll draw this comparison to Steinbeck's work immediately: this novel is supremely depressing (and this coming from someone who enjoys dystopian concepts). What Perrotta does masterfully is weave thoroughly developed characters who are working, some successfully and some not, through the grief process. I found myself heartbroken for some of them, and the touching descriptions of their most intimate struggles and attempts to cope were perhaps what made the book difficult to take in longer sittings.
The friend who loaned this book to me? He told me that his friend had told him that, for him, the entire novel came down to the last sentence. He urged me to resist the urge to look forward, and to wait for it to arrive. So I did. My friend also told me that, if that last sentence is really what the novel is working toward, then it didn't have much. I'll just say that it fell hopelessly flat.
And that, ultimately, is my description of much the book: hopelessly flat. That has a great deal to do with the fact that the reader finishes with absolutely no clue what Perrotta is trying to accomplish here. I've heard others say that he doesn't have an axe to grind, but I'm not so convinced. I would have walked away from the book much more fulfilled had I simply been able to get some glimpse of what axe it was, but Perrotta, perhaps intentionally, leaves it obscured. What seems most likely to me is a treatment of the shortfalls of organized religion, but even this reading runs into difficulties soon enough. I finished this book emotionally wrung out, but more bemused than I have been by a work of literary fiction in some time.
Perhaps I'm looking too deeply, and Perrotta is simply painting a picture of working through the grief of sudden and enormous loss, and how some always find ways to hope and move forward, while some become twisted and forever fractured, all againt an imaginative premise as a backdrop. If this is the case, then he certainly writes his characters beautifully, but to a shallow end. If this is what Perrotta wanted to accomplish, then he certainly did so, but I found it wanting. I have difficulty recommending this book to anyone. (less)