**spoiler alert** Well. It's funny, for one thing. Surprisingly so; happily taking potshots at idealism in all its forms. I suppose we're meant to lau**spoiler alert** Well. It's funny, for one thing. Surprisingly so; happily taking potshots at idealism in all its forms. I suppose we're meant to laugh at Olive just as much as at Basil, although, of course, Olive has the weight of history on her side.
But that ending! I assumed from early on that the book would end with Verena blissfully abandoning both cousins to follow some completely unexpected path, so I was well and truly shocked when Basil seemed to win the day, and then, just as I was about to absorb that, James turns around and sucker-punches the reader with one of the cruelest sentences I've ever read: "It is to be feared that with the union, so far from brilliant, into which she was about to enter, these were not the last [tears] she was destined to shed." The end.
Christ! I wasn't that much of a fan of Verena to begin with. Her "gifts" are never really explained and carry with them more than the faintest whiff of film-flam. Her ceaseless waffling between the furious passions of Olive and Basil just makes her seem vapid and weak-willed. But after hundreds of pages of her bouncing back-and-forth between the two, to dismiss her final decision so with such startling abruptness is jaw-dropping in its audacity, all the more so because it's really hard to believe that James is wrong.
I found Basil amusing at the beginning and the portrait of his life in New York appealed to me with its desperation, but his obsession with Verena is creepy. I wonder if it would seem so to James' peers; I suspect many would have considered it romantic, but today it reads like little more than a bad pick-up artist or internet troll (which, obviously, would mean nothing to James).
And Olive. I liked her a lot, with her fiery intensity, but I'm flummoxed by here powerlessness in the face of Basil, who, quite frankly, seems to fall well short of being a worthy adversary. It's as though there is some context that I'm just completely missing.
I watched a truly wretched movie adaptation of this called The Californians; the premise was amusing, with Verena as a persuasive folk singer trapped between a brother who wants to turn a nature preserve into a suburban development and a sister who is fighting him. The writing is awful and the acting fails to elevate the material. But the ending is different, with Verena and Basil running off together quite happily, while Olive delivers the climactic folk song as some sort of spoken word piece to roaring applause. It's the kind of ending only Hollywood could attempt to get away with, but it's also what I was expecting from the book in some fashion. The horrifying ambivalence of how James has actually ended the book is thrilling, but perplexing. I have no idea what to make of this. ...more
I've been in a Henry James mood lately, for no reason that I can make out. I'm not sure what to make of this one, aside that it seems somehow unfinishI've been in a Henry James mood lately, for no reason that I can make out. I'm not sure what to make of this one, aside that it seems somehow unfinished. Felix, especially, feels like an incomplete cartoon, and most of the Wentworth clan feels unexplored.
But I enjoyed James' commentary on worldliness and sophistication. The esteem with which everyone holds Eugenia and the disdain she maintains toward their provincialism are used to great comic effect. James skillfully manages to puncture both for his readers without doing so for his characters.
Honestly, this felt like a dirtier version of a Jane Austen tale (especially Mr. Wentworth). James draws much more attention to the grime underlying the elaborate manners then Austen ever would, which feels much more honest, but admittedly, less appealing....more
I liked the premise, and I was surprised by how timely a read this was. Maybe this is just late making its way to America, but the notion of people whI liked the premise, and I was surprised by how timely a read this was. Maybe this is just late making its way to America, but the notion of people who are basically doing alright, but still enraged and lashing out in all the wrong directions feels like the premise of a novel someone should be writing right now rather than fifteen years ago.
To be perfectly frank, humanity is in a golden age. Yes, there is injustice and inequality, but it's not as though we don't have the power and resources to put an end to most of it. But like Sally, we insist on using the walking sticks we no longer need. Faced with nearly endless possibility, we seem to insist on choosing unhappiness, like a corporation viewing the Internet as a threat, rather than a potentially amazing tool for commerce and profit.
So the ludicrous revolution at Chelsea Manors feels real. Of course people will latch on to any perceived slight and obsess over it. Maintenance fees too high? Better burn down a film archive. It's the rest of the book I couldn't grab hold of. Markham is an idiot, so it's no wonder that he's dependent on his father-in-law for a job and stuck in a loveless marriage before falling under the sway of a charismatic lunatic. To be honest, though, Gould never strikes me as particularly charismatic. Ballard keeps insisting that he is, but whatever he wants the reader to find compelling goes right over my head. ...more
I picked this up as an impulse buy at the comic store just as they were closing. I'd loved the Netflix show, and it really put me in a Daredevil mood.I picked this up as an impulse buy at the comic store just as they were closing. I'd loved the Netflix show, and it really put me in a Daredevil mood. I knew Miller's material was pretty formative for the character, and while I have my problems with his modern stuff, I figured it was worth taking a chance on his earlier stuff.
But the truth is that my problems with this volume have nothing to do with Miller. No matter what I've read, I really can't stomach any of the comics from this period. There's absolutely no expectation of sophistication on the part of the reader. Between the constant barrage of thought bubbles and on-the-nose dialogue and the insistence on reiterating the premise every issue, I just get bored (although I did laugh at the news anchor who introduced Matt as "blind attorney," just in case you'd forgotten the main character was blind).
Maybe that's not a fair criticism; these stories were written with an adolescent boy in mind as the primary reader, but I've grown comfortable with the notion that adults can now find something worth reading in the comics world. ...more
This one flew right over my head. The best part of the book was the afterword, which managed to paint Chester as a more interesting character than anyThis one flew right over my head. The best part of the book was the afterword, which managed to paint Chester as a more interesting character than any in his novel.
As for the book itself, I can't really comment on the story, because he has mostly chosen not to have one, and it's difficult to say anything about the characters, as they're constantly in a state of flux. To be totally honest, I actually kind of like that idea, and the notion of having to puzzle out who's who, or even if there actually are multiple characters. But I don't think it works here. As for the racier parts of the book ... well, it's mostly the entire book, which kind of kills any kind of taboo thrill that might have been generated. Perversity awash in perversion eventually becomes mundane.
I feel bad, because this book, and Chester's writing, seems to have struck a chord with many people, but frankly, it did nothing for me....more
**spoiler alert** Maybe it's because of the vast differences between the book and the movie, but I spent a lot of time while reading this wondering ab**spoiler alert** Maybe it's because of the vast differences between the book and the movie, but I spent a lot of time while reading this wondering about the differences between the book and reality. Punke owns up to the fact that his book is really as much a work of fiction as it is based on a true story, and given the source material, no version of this tale can ever be truly factual.
So why tell it? There's a point here to be made about the futility of vengeance, but I'm not really sure what it is. Glass' encounter with Bridger proves ultimately unsatisfying, and the novel ends with him abandoning hope and need for retribution against Fitzgerald, so clearly the moral is something along the lines of 'revenge is bad', but at the same time, it seems that Glass' driving need to mete out rough frontier justice to his betrayers was what kept him alive after being abandoned.
So maybe this isn't really a book about revenge. Maybe it's a book about being alone. After all, the book is filled with Ill-fated partnerships. Virtually every person in the book believes themselves to be part of some sort of team, that eventually dissolves and leaves them behind. The book begins with the moment when Fitzgerald and Bridger leave Glass, but that moment is repeated in varying guises throughout the book, whether it's the Sioux abandoning Col. Leavenworth, Bridger losing his family to fever ... even Glass assumes the role of betrayer, leaving his fiancée behind when abducted by pirates and fleeing from the voyageurs when attacked by the Arikara.
So maybe it's not exactly a message about revenge, so much as it is an argument that the ties that bind us to others are fleeting at best, easily severed by circumstance, or fear, or illness. Our belief in those ties, on the other hand, is far more potent than the reality. Fitzgerald and Bridger leaving Glass to die is, quite frankly, not that hard to understand. Their crime is cowardice and cruelty, but it was also inevitable and almost justifiable. Glass sees it as a betrayal, but there was no real bond amongst these men who barely knew each other in the first place. The passion of his belief that there was such a bond, a bond which should have been respected, is what gives Glass the strength to survive and pursue the two men, but in his travels, I think he comes to realize that such bonds are illusory. The three men encountered one another briefly before separating to go their own ways, for such is the nature of all human relationship. Once he sees that, he realizes that there is no fuel for the fire of his fury, and he is free to walk away from Fitzgerald. ...more
I can't help but feel that Ishiguro wants his readers to feel as if they too were suffering the deleterious effects of the mist that has robbed his chI can't help but feel that Ishiguro wants his readers to feel as if they too were suffering the deleterious effects of the mist that has robbed his characters of their memories. In this, I think he has succeeded, as the book feels something like reading a dream, where crucial details and connections continually slip from grasp. It's an effective, albeit frustrating technique.
I liked and cared very much about Axl and Beatrice, because I could feel that there was more to them than what could appear in the book, as they'd been hollowed out by the theft of their memories; and what, after all, is a person without their past? The end of the book gives a hint of what must otherwise have been, as Axl confesses what seems like ambivalence about his princess to the boatman. The ending is certainly open to interpretation, but for me it exposes that Axl's wound never truly healed, and that he is still sufficiently jealous of his wife to view her willingness to go alone with the boatman as a betrayal.
There's the paradox of grief; in our suffering, we want nothing more than to forget it, but if we want to deal with it, to move past it, to heal from it, grief must be confronted and embraced. Merlin's mist was a futile effort to heal England by wiping clean the slate, but that could never be a permanent solution. Even had Wistan never found the dragon, she would have died eventually, returning war to a land that seems miserable even without it.
Frankly, the book's true tragedy is that Axl seems to have had the solution all along. His treaties, apparently, could have forged a real and lasting peace. But by the book's end, even he appears to have moved away from this. ...more
Not nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped, unfortunately. The book is perfectly satisfactory. I like James' definition of what makes someone an asshole, aNot nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped, unfortunately. The book is perfectly satisfactory. I like James' definition of what makes someone an asshole, and he delves deeply into the nature of what that means for us as people and as a people.
But ultimately, the book's weakness is its nuance and reasonableness. I'd probably complain just as much if it was otherwise, but James seems unwilling to take a firm stance. He points out that one man's asshole is another's hero, and his advice for dealing with such is basically to shrug and say that it depends. I agree with him, but it doesn't make for a very satisfying read. The truth is that I don't think I want a thoughtful approach to assholery. I just want to scream out, "Christ, what an asshole!"
Additionally, I think the book could have used a chapter detailing the categories of non-assholes. He mentions briefly that there is a difference between a jerk, a schmuck, and an asshole, and I think it would have been fun to see how he delineates the difference. Less canoodling about the nature of free will (the chapter on whether or not we can blame assholes for their behavior was a low point) and more crawling around in the muck of awful humanity. ...more
**spoiler alert** A lot going on in this one, which is I think what I liked most about it. It's busy, but it doesn't feel like it because most of what**spoiler alert** A lot going on in this one, which is I think what I liked most about it. It's busy, but it doesn't feel like it because most of what's going on had its genesis earlier in the series.
And the idea of creating magical lands feels like a fitting final MacGuffin for the series -- something that feels even more magical than magic, whereas merely exploring other lands doesn't feel (to me, at least), that much more special. Going to Fillory, in other words, is something you do with magic, while the near-deification involved with creating one's own Fillory feels like something that happens when you're ready to move past magic....more
A lot of this works much better than the first volume. There's a lot less obvious axe-grinding, which is a relief, and the inclusion of Julia's storyA lot of this works much better than the first volume. There's a lot less obvious axe-grinding, which is a relief, and the inclusion of Julia's story introduces a much-needed note of pathos. Quentin's whiny, self-involved ennui dragged down the first book, but here he's got a purpose, which is far more interesting.
My one real qualm is that I just don't get the big deal with Fillory (which is kind of a big deal, given that it's the primary motivation for most of the characters). Don't get me wrong; it seems nice, and I appreciate the appeal of visiting a land of childhood nostalgia. But given that these characters already have access to magic, it's hard to feel the urgency of returning to Fillory. I guess Grossman just never makes me feel that Fillory is as elevated above the magical world as the magical world is above the mundane. Put another way, Quentin's expulsion doesn't seem like such a dramatic moment, given that he can still do magic. Maybe that's not very sympathetic of me. ...more
I'd expected an adult Harry Potter: swearing, drinking, sex. But I hadn't expected the furiously-extended middle fingers pointing at both Hogwarts andI'd expected an adult Harry Potter: swearing, drinking, sex. But I hadn't expected the furiously-extended middle fingers pointing at both Hogwarts and Narnia. Honestly, I quite enjoyed the skewering of the traditional orphan escape fantasy. Quentin isn't the chosen one, and his entrance to the magical world is no departure from his problems. He's gifted, yes, but not special-with-a-capital-s.
I think it speaks to something that's really lacking in a lot of young adult fiction: an acknowledgement that the solution to most of one's problems, must come from inside. It's nice to imagine that a giant is about to tell you you're a wizard, or that opening the right door can take you to a magical land, but it's not going to happen. Your true self isn't waiting for adventure to reveal itself; it's already the person you are.
That said, the second half of the book gets pretty tedious. I can't decide if that's just a case of Grossman's idea not having enough steam to keep the story moving, or just that it's rarely fun to read about a pouty, sulking protagonist. Sometimes it can be fun to want to slap the main character, but this book doesn't quite pull off the trick. ...more
This series really just asks the readers to take too much on faith, without it providing any evidence or reason for what's going on. I know the old adThis series really just asks the readers to take too much on faith, without it providing any evidence or reason for what's going on. I know the old adage about any sufficiently-advanced technology appearing to be magic, but all the alien tech here is magic. I've been waiting for three books for some sort of explanation as to how their technology can effectively ignore the laws of physics, even if it's only some hand-wavey piece of pseudo-technobabble, but at this point it's clear that were not even going to get that.
But mostly, it's the characters. Holden is, apparently, the greatest, unless you pay attention to the things he actually does, which are mostly stupid. Naomi is the greatest engineer in the universe; Alex is the greatest pilot ever; Amos is an unbeatable killing machine with a heart of gold. If any of that seems unlikely, it's tough luck, because despite having been the main characters of these books, they're mostly still unexplored two-dimensional ciphers. Murthy is evil, which would be okay if it made any sense whatsoever, and the book's need to have bad guys infects other minor characters, like the chief engineer who screams "fuck you," and starts obsessively trying to kill Havelock at the first sign of betrayal. The entire militia's focus on trying to destroy the Rocinante makes no sense whatsoever, when they should be trying to figure out a solution to the actual problems facing them. Elvi is just embarrassing; the less said, the better.
And I'm still weirded out by the emotionalism that overcomes anyone who steps onboard Holden's ship. Does the Martian military just pump pheromones into the air supply of their ships?
I find this series to be frustrating. I like the political setup, with Earth, Mars, and the belters trying to figure out how to deal with advanced alien technology, and I like when they confront how instantly perilous space travel can become. But it also seems like Corey assumes that the opinions of the human race can and do turn uniformly on a dime. The characters are terrible, or paper-thin at best. If it wasn't that I don't like unfinished stories (or that it's so easy to buy books on my eReader), I wouldn't have made it even this far in the series....more
It's frustrating that this series relies so heavily on "bad guys" who are bad simply for the sake of being bad, acting irrationally and against theirIt's frustrating that this series relies so heavily on "bad guys" who are bad simply for the sake of being bad, acting irrationally and against their own obvious interests, just so that the protagonist can have an easily identified adversary without any messy moral issues.
That said, I kind of enjoy how much mileage the author gets out of simple issues of physics, even if I'm still not sure I buy a lot of it as plausible. Seriously, they have engines that can run for months at a time? I guess I bought in on Star Trek, if only because there was no suggestion of a propellant-based thrust system, but the idea of some sort of rocket firing continuously ... but I digress. The fact that so much damage can be done to these ships and people just by making them suddenly stop really works for me, in a way that some rocket or laser wouldn't have. It draws a nice line of demarcation between human and alien thinking, with the humans clearly falling on the stupid side of the line.
Not sure how I feel about how emotional this series is, specifically about the Rocinante and its crew. How many times has someone boarded the ship and gotten all teary-eyed about the simple fact that there's a spare cabin they can use for a while? I still don't buy Holden as any kind of great captain. He's definitely lucky, and were I to be the beneficiary of said luck, I would definitely thank him and then try to get the hell off his ship before the next brainless decision he makes drops me back in the soup. ...more
It's far from inconceivable that an author can embrace his hero's flaws, but I've never seen an author so eager to draw such attention to them. But heIt's far from inconceivable that an author can embrace his hero's flaws, but I've never seen an author so eager to draw such attention to them. But here, on several occasions, Holden will come to some obviously erroneous conclusion. Other characters, who have proven shrewder and more trustworthy, will point out the flaws in his arguments, but he'll stick to them, even as it becomes more and more apparent that he's wrong. Finally, his mistakes will be irrevocably thrown in his face, launching him into a cycle of self-doubt, from which he is rescued when his shipmates, inexplicably, praise him for his idiocy.
It's not that he's a bad person; frankly, that would be preferable. Surrounded by the Smartest, Toughest, and Most Skilled people in the galaxy, he's an anomaly. You can't hate him, because it's clear he's trying to do good, despite failing over and over again. But there's no reason he should be the captain, or the primary protagonist, no matter how many belabored justifications Naomi, Amos, or Alex give. Any one of them would be a better choice than the guy who's "so good at talking down a situation" that he's basically started the two biggest wars in human history.
And Corey doubles down here by introducing Prax, who fits the same mold of a good person trying and failing to do good, but getting a pat on the head from everyone else who should know better.
As for the rest of the book? Eh. It's fast-paced, and I want to see how it turns out, but I don't find it a particularly realistic look at how humanity will spread across the solar system. As a side note, I think I misinterpreted Corey's space flight concept. Instead of accelerating to a constant velocity and coasting, they continually accelerate? That seems ... wildly fuel inefficient. I no longer remember the details of their drive system, but I'm not sure I can accept the plausibility of its fuel requirements. And I don't care enough to go back and figure it out. ...more
Part space opera, part detective fiction; but to be honest, I kept waiting for it to be something more than what it is. It's fine. Nifty premise, fastPart space opera, part detective fiction; but to be honest, I kept waiting for it to be something more than what it is. It's fine. Nifty premise, fast-moving, and lots of action. The characters are paper-thin, of course, and Holden's naïveté gets a bit grating (but he's the hero, so everybody eventually follows him, despite his constant poor decision-making). Also, the romantic entanglements for both him and Miller are kind of embarrassing.
My biggest gripe? (And I could be terribly wrong about this) I can't shake the feeling that Corey completely misunderstands spaceflight. Maybe I'm misinterpreting, but I think he's confusing velocity with acceleration. If shipboard gravity is based off thrust, then it would only work when ships were accelerating or decelerating, yes? Once a steady velocity was attained, no more gravity. It makes me think that the asteroid-spin-based gravity system he's got is also probably nonsense. And it's not just that. It seems like travel times are vastly underestimated, along with the consequences of orbital mechanics. Getting to Earth or Venus from the asteroid belt isn't simply a matter of pointing at the Sun. I mean, it's silly to complain about fictional science (and again, maybe I'm wrong about this), but it is still science fiction, and I'd appreciate at least a nod toward plausibility. ...more