Clever, stirring sci-fi tale written in a manner that respects content, addressing human values of identity and integrity. It is a very enjoyable read...moreClever, stirring sci-fi tale written in a manner that respects content, addressing human values of identity and integrity. It is a very enjoyable read because of its challenge to the reader in defying some of our expectations about characters in books. I think that if science fiction isn't challenging the reader, it isn't really science fiction, it's "space opera." The main theme is revenge and justice -- the title is a play on words. It ties up at the end in a way that's a bit too rapid and convenient, like a television show running short on time, undercutting the rigor and careful pace of the rest of the narrative, and I had a harder time maintaining clarity about the rapid events and shifts in setting and status of the characters; I don't think it would have suffered from a longer wrapping up. The stage is set for Ann Leckie's next book which is scheduled to be published in October 2014, "Ancillary Sword." I expect the next book to expand on the motifs of identity, justice, and integrity, while introducing alien beings. I'm looking forward to it. It's a good thing to find a fresh creative voice in science fiction, addressing real moral concerns.(less)
A better, more emotionally rewarding book than the first, "The Magicians." Here Quentin undergoes a genuine adventure, his youthful arrogance and iron...moreA better, more emotionally rewarding book than the first, "The Magicians." Here Quentin undergoes a genuine adventure, his youthful arrogance and ironic hipness are finally tested and shed. Lev Grossman's language is a pleasure to read, and his creative imagery is witty and nuanced. The audio books for this series are excellent. Grossman is a sophisticated and knowing writer who taps into young people's passion for something more in lives that lack meaning; people who need to discover in themselves the capacity for virtue and strength: a solid fantasy theme.(less)
A well-written "adult" Harry Potter-esque fantasy, written in a tone of modern irony and amoral snarkiness. The main character, Quentin, is short on v...moreA well-written "adult" Harry Potter-esque fantasy, written in a tone of modern irony and amoral snarkiness. The main character, Quentin, is short on virtues, and typifies a popular sort of nerdy, aspiring young man who is supposed to be realistic, while possessing the rare advantages of magical talent. There is an elaborate school of magic setting, and a few intriguing nail biter episodes, and some beautifully composed scenes, and the characters are distinctly drawn and engaging in their shallow ways, but the absence of any moral concern, and Quentin's only minor personal path of development, left this an unfulfilling read.(less)
This book makes a powerfully persuasive argument that the works of Shakespeare could not have been written by a semi-illiterate, lower-class actor fro...moreThis book makes a powerfully persuasive argument that the works of Shakespeare could not have been written by a semi-illiterate, lower-class actor from Stratford-on-Avon, but were in fact written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a man who had all the education, travel, experience, connections, talent, and motivation to write these works. The style of writing is meticulous, and full of amazing gems, but the lack of narrative flow, with many interruptions to discuss evidence, makes it a little heavy-going. The Tudor era is a fascinating time, and this biography of Edward de Vere is a brilliant window into it.(less)
Cornwell is a master of historical research, and always finds a compelling point of view to illuminate the past. Unfortunately, Stonehenge seems more...moreCornwell is a master of historical research, and always finds a compelling point of view to illuminate the past. Unfortunately, Stonehenge seems more generic than inspired, and I've been trying to analyze why that is so. I loved Agincourt and his Arthur trilogy, which both kept me turning the pages, but I won't be finishing this one.
I enjoyed skipping ahead to the end of the book and reading Cornwell's notes on his Stonehenge research, which I found far more interesting, particularly his speculative but supported insight that the major construction was completed within a lifetime, probably under the direction of one or very few people.
I think as a writer he was dominated by three problems:
1) The mentality of our more distant ancestors is difficult to penetrate, and even more difficult to represent in anything like a modern novel. There's a reason that the novel, as an art form, arose at the same time as the European Enlightenment. That's worth a book in itself. In any case, although stories are as ancient as the hills (so to speak), they are a far cry from the requirements of the popular novel form, which depends a great deal on vivid individual personalities that speak for their times. I think that, with study and inspiration, one could touch the hard lives, oral culture, magical thinking, and tribal identities of earlier people (heck, go look at rural Afghanistan today), but they are not like the people of modern novels. I think that Cornwell has fallen too deeply into creating types instead of individuals, depending too much on the reader's interest in the construction of Stonehenge. Historical novels always require representative types of characters, but inspiration is required, too. The most interesting but also most enigmatic character is Camaban, the sorcerer, but he is external to much of the action, and too strange for this author to seriously entertain. I think that Cornwell has taken his fascination with Stonehenge and has challenged himself to write a book about it, but having set himself this project, it feels to me as if he is fleshing it out into a standard novel format, without passion or inspiration.
2) Too many points of view, diluted over many "types" who are generically intended to speak for their culture, reduce the reader's ability to connect with important characters.
3) The main character is a weird, massive, strange, chthonic stone temple that stands in some relationship between the earth and the sun. I think Stonehenge would work better as a movie. I think that the visual, physical properties of the setting far outstrip the writer's ability to represent it, and the myriad characters of the book would succeed as primarily visual actors (in both senses of the word). Bernard, get crackin' on that screenplay!
I think Peter Weir or Ridley Scott could direct. Or, preferably, a less renowned, up-and-coming director who I haven't heard of. This is a movie that won't need stars to succeed: the star is Stonehenge itself. It needs a superb cinematographer who "gets" the mystery and power in a big-screen way, an energetic, physical cast, and a director with a great love of setting and action scenes. But oh, Lord, save us from the shaky-cam, and let us return to clearly staged fights and battle scenes, and give us gore with a modicum of taste... sounds like a prayer, doesn't it?)
Doesn't Britain have bronze-age re-enactors? (less)
There's a bit too much of telling-not-showing, and my "secondary belief" wasn't as rock solid as it should be, and my engagement with the characters w...moreThere's a bit too much of telling-not-showing, and my "secondary belief" wasn't as rock solid as it should be, and my engagement with the characters was cool, but overall this was a fun read. Warbreaker has plenty of cinematic possibility. He's clearly left the book in a condition where there should be a sequel, as --[spoiler-free]-- two main characters ride off to new adventures. There's plenty of Princess Leia - Han Solo type relationship there, and not handled in an especially fresh manner.
Sanderson always does a great job of world-building and environmental description, but it's almost to a fault, and it sometimes takes precedence over narrative-building. A fantasy world serves a purpose, as it does in science fiction: it isn't just a belly-button-gazing exercise; there are human concepts, tensions, and contradictions that the writer embodies in cultures, as a background or condition for his story. There are literate ways of revealing a culture; much of this type of writing tends to sound like fantasy game design. The power of suggestion to the reader is far more effective than an exhaustive report on a landscape. Sanderson is a very capable writer, and pulls this off with far more grace than, say, Anthony Huso's The Last Page. Still, I see there is a large market for this sort of writing.
Warbreaker didn't leave me with any strong resonance, but it does serve to show off Sanderson's developing talent. I think he is a marvelous, generous, and kind-hearted writer. I'm very impressed and grateful for his willingness to share his writer's craft with his fans.(less)
Adam Roberts' witty and fluid style carries this sci-fi novella, his first foray into self-publishing, as he describes on his website. The introductio...moreAdam Roberts' witty and fluid style carries this sci-fi novella, his first foray into self-publishing, as he describes on his website. The introduction is a sprightly tour of current scientific thought about the physics of the universe, quantum theory, the mystery of dark matter, and the strangeness of time at micro- and macro-scales. When reading this, I squawked to myself "where's the fiction?!" Patience. It starts in the next chapter, and bears a tenuous relationship to the introduction, in terms of plot, but the author does set one up to recognize that, to the best of our knowledge, the world is a strange place.
Anticopernicus is a clever, self-consciously self-referential, quickly-moving story about first contact between human beings and aliens in a future not vastly different from our own. The theme is a revery about isolation, uniqueness, and asymmetry, reflected in the technique of the story-writing itself. Despite ostensibly dealing with the phenomenon of consciousness, I have to say, "no, it isn't about that." There was a second Copernican revolution, one may recall from reading Kant, that has much more to do with consciousness per se. Roberts is writing about the phenomenon of humanity, in its complexity, ignorance, and hubris, and treats our capacity for self-consciousness in the same material, offhand, naive manner as most scientists. Opportunity lost there, I think. But of course, that's not this story, that would be some other story.
Putting on my nit-picking hat, I found several typographical errors and some things that an editor would raise an eyebrow at, but that is typical for self-published works. Ange, the protagonist space-woman, takes a shower the moment she thinks she's resolved a critical ship-threatening emergency, in which her ship-mate was nearly killed. Please, what emergency protocol involves taking a shower at such a moment? People who work with complex technology, such as nuclear plants, have protocols for everything. They usually don't involve jumping into a shower the moment you think you've solved your most immediate problem, when the entire condition of the ship is unknown, and other problems haven't been addressed. I couldn't see the necessity for this particular plot device. It's silly for me to spend so many words on this one small detail, but it's silly to leave irritants in a text which annoy informed readers. Sci-fi readers must be particularly horrible.
In sum, definitely worth the $0.99 download on Amazon. I'm hoping that more of Roberts' works will be available as Kindle downloads.(less)
I started reading The Annotated Hobbit, but found the layout was too distracting to my enjoyment of the story, so I switched to the Kindle edition. Re...moreI started reading The Annotated Hobbit, but found the layout was too distracting to my enjoyment of the story, so I switched to the Kindle edition. Re-reading The Hobbit was a strange trip. I first read it 40 years ago. I spent more time reading and re-reading The Lord of the Rings in my youth, but The Hobbit had fled from my memory.
This time I appreciated the buoyant tone and the narration clearly directed at children, yet the book is entertaining, sly, and nuanced enough for adults. I enjoyed the reverence for place and sensation: the experience of Mirkwood, the strong sense of traveling into unknown lands. I think that Bilbo is an exemplary character who demonstrates that even the meekest among us may rise to the occasion. He's a hero for children (and adults) who must overcome fear and self-image that precludes taking risks and facing obstacles with heart. He maintains his humor and his spirit, suffers adversity with stoicism, is generous, but discriminates between good and evil. Bilbo becomes a warrior who can still enjoy a cup of tea.
POSTSCRIPT: My first act as a Goodreads librarian: I corrected a misspelling of the word "prequel". And whether The Hobbit is a "prequel" to The Lord of the Rings is a moot point. I tend to think it stands alone. Just because a story happens chronologically prior to another story, in the same setting, and with some of the same characters, doesn't make it a "prequel." The concerns of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are quite distinct, as are their intended audiences.
Some enthusiastic Goodreads librarians mistakenly believe that The Hobbit is part of a series called "Middle-earth Universe." If I try to correct the confusion between "setting" and "series" it will probably just be changed back. What do you think? Are we to be dominated by popular ignorance?(less)
I read this a while ago, but since The Little Reader is sharing her experience, I'm dropping this mini-review into my "read" pile. The beginnings of e...moreI read this a while ago, but since The Little Reader is sharing her experience, I'm dropping this mini-review into my "read" pile. The beginnings of epidemiological investigation in 19th century London, during a cholera outbreak. Fascinating stuff. The author has done painstaking research into the personalities and social conditions of the people involved. One learns a great deal about cholera, the geography of the city, and water and sewer infrastructure. Grim material, but spirited and a rewarding read.(less)
The last book of this trilogy. Enjoyable characters, especially Glokta, the crippled torturer. I was wowed by the first book, but the second book with...moreThe last book of this trilogy. Enjoyable characters, especially Glokta, the crippled torturer. I was wowed by the first book, but the second book with its darker, grumpier version of the "we're a fellowship on a quest" formula just didn't hit the right note for me, and wasn't well paced. By the third book, I was tired of gory battle scenes. Too many of them resulted in minor plot movements that should have been condensed. I'm just saying I thought some deeper editing could have kept more momentum in the story line. There's a lot of realistic sword fighting. The deepest note of unreality for me was that people who have suffered grievous wounds in the past still trot around and fight adeptly. Yes, the human body is amazingly resilient, but the truth is that we're fragile beings, and injuries to our vulnerable joints, ligaments, muscles, and bones (not to mention our internal organs) are likely to diminish our physical powers. Look at football players if you are skeptical -- and they're just crashing into each other. OK, right, it's fantasy. I get it. But still. Could you discern that I'm REALLY tired of all the cartoon-violent high budget idiotic movies that are being produced as entertainment these days? I'm not opposed to violence. I'm keen on director Sam Peckinpah, for example. Violence needs to mean something. And it needs to have real consequences. Otherwise, we're just whacking each other with nerf bats.
I wouldn't mind reading more about this world, if the character Glokta gets more development, the cartoon violence and magical-super-power gets toned down, and if the author's style matures some more. The magical-super-power thing is a hot coal in books. Doing it right and doing it well requires utmost artistry to avoid falling into hack-dom.(less)
2nd book in Abercrombie's The First Law series. Not as well edited as the first book. I start to tire of gory battle scenes. Glokta remains interestin...more2nd book in Abercrombie's The First Law series. Not as well edited as the first book. I start to tire of gory battle scenes. Glokta remains interesting but his internal monologue gets repetitive. Logen gets more development. The scenes in the Hall of the Maker are good, if a bit hard for me to spatialize. Magic continues as a very low-key matter, with politics, power, and courage as the big stories.(less)
Mr. Opally, aka Pugix, found this book, and recommended it to me. I enjoyed very much the well researched lives, Indian and Colonial, in the late 17th...moreMr. Opally, aka Pugix, found this book, and recommended it to me. I enjoyed very much the well researched lives, Indian and Colonial, in the late 17th century. The descriptions of the New England and Quebec regional landscapes are beautiful. This is the first of a planned quartet of books in a series called "Remembrance of Things that Never Happened," by Patricia Weenolsen. They are self-published by what seems to be the author's own publishing house, Rubythroat Press.
The Cave of Storms is sensitive, intelligent, and well-paced, with a strong feminine point of view in the protagonist, Mary. At times the language is a bit quirky, but it is stylistically coherent and effective throughout. The early setting of the Salem witchcraft trials is fascinating and the author handles it well, told from Mary's point of view, with almost no exposition. The major theme is Mary's developing spirituality. There is an element of Indian spiritual culture and magic, and a rather strong anti-Roman Catholic Missionary angle. I found the author's insight into Indian lives to be quite convincing. The characters are attractively drawn, but I didn't find them to be particularly emotionally engaging, including the heroine, Mary. Perhaps she's a bit too overtly sympathetic, intended as an uplifting spiritual exemplar. Still, I found that to be a minor flaw in my enjoyment of this book. I'm looking forward to reading the second book of the series, Daughter of the Morning Star.(less)
Mappa Mundi is a cleverly written and engrossing sci-fi thriller, with interesting characters who are central to the plot. The story embraces scientif...moreMappa Mundi is a cleverly written and engrossing sci-fi thriller, with interesting characters who are central to the plot. The story embraces scientific questions about the nature of consciousness (ghost in the machine?) and problems of motivation toward moral action when it conflicts with loyalty and self-interest. The central theme is a struggle between competing individual, political and institutional interests in controlling an emerging biotechnology of mind alteration. The author, Justina Robson, thoroughly develops these themes, although her perspective is dominated by scientific assumptions about the nature of consciousness; but I can't complain too much -- I'm happy that this is well-written and courageously explored science fiction. In the beginning of the book we are introduced to five utterly unrelated central characters through illuminating vignettes in their lives, told from their point of view, followed by a chapter of a dramatic scene involving a fire on an Indian reservation and told from yet another character's point of view, whose significance and interrelationship we slowly come to understand. Robson has incorporated theoretical neuroscience and leading edge medical technology, and included weighty themes of social justice and domination. The narrative is brilliantly paced, with sufficient tension, development, and action to keep one turning pages. I found this book hard to put down, despite my finding some central premises to be barely believable.
I note that we're well into the era when it's easy to find bad guys in the powerful interests controlling the United States government and justice system (yes, and well deserved, U.S., way to go.)
There is attention to accuracy of setting including York, U.K., and the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. My town, Charlottesville, even gets a mention. However, atmosphere is not center stage in this book.
There is a much currency to the problem of surreptitious mind control, which we're in the midst of in our societies today. One can become cognizant of how people and culture are being manipulated by powerful corporate and political interests through advertising, entertainment, media messaging, and political sloganeering. I think the forces that act upon our minds are already deeply in play, and we don't need to imagine an elaborate technology to explain how we could be dominated without our realizing it.(less)
A delightful read, expertly written and engaging. Time-travel to 14th century, plus biological epidemic themes. Characters are enjoyable; not deep but...moreA delightful read, expertly written and engaging. Time-travel to 14th century, plus biological epidemic themes. Characters are enjoyable; not deep but suitable for this thriller sci-fi plot, with mystery cozy elements, and a nice touch of humor. I particularly liked the portrayal and detail of medieval Britain and contemporary Oxford. Deeply researched and convincing, including the public health epidemic control systems of the near-future. The time-travel technology seemed fishy (its limitations and construction scream "obvious plot device"), but that's a problem with the time travel theme in general. If you like history, and want to enjoy a thoroughly engaging book, this one will do the trick. It's been many months since I read something that was hard to put down.(less)
Meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy! Plenty of the usual Martin juiciness in character, interactions, schemes, and events. Brutality and suffering are well...moreMeaty, beaty, big, and bouncy! Plenty of the usual Martin juiciness in character, interactions, schemes, and events. Brutality and suffering are well in evidence, side by side with hope and sincerity.
Alas, I start to tire of the cliff-hanger formula for each chapter. I would like to follow each story line farther, with fewer interruptions. Is this device so necessary? It's typical of a modern TV dramatic series. More than five major story lines are juggled in the air, and there are some important new characters. But their coming together is still mostly anticipated.
A Dance with Dragons left me with more questions than answers. It's a giant "coming next season!" promotional trailer.
Beware, spoilers follow! Do NOT read further if you haven't read this book!
Just to share a few "Ahah!" and "Oy!" moments with you...
Wot, Brienne lives! But nothing more than that. Tantalizer. Is she a zombie? Was she cut down from the hangman's rope? Well, shucks, we won't know the truth of it for another few years. Sigh. Didn't we buy enough laundry soap? Ah, no, we bought too much laundry soap.
Wonderfully gruesome and excruciating transformation of Theon Greyjoy. I do like the fellow. He has weaknesses we can all relate to, and yet there is a purity about him. Poor guy. Hmm, do you think Martin was influenced by Joe Abercrombie's Inquisitor Glokta character? I'm very interested to see what becomes of him.
Gratuitous debasing of Cersei, but I start to care less about her, since she is so far divorced in time from her power plays and sexual antics. This is a problem for epics written in this manner, with many stories told in parallel, and some greatly deferred in the telling. Oh yeah, Cersei? Huh.
Nothing of Sansa or Littlefinger in this book. [Mourn.]
Alas, I start to have problems with believability; what Tolkien called "secondary belief." Arya commits her first assassination using a poison coin. How can she be sure that this poison will only affect her designated target and noone else who might come in contact with that coin? Was this a marvelous time-limited poison? It didn't have a full enough explanation of its action for me to have confidence in it. It started to smell like a "convenient plot device." Yuck!
Many thousands of Wildlings live north of The Wall, in constantly snowy lands. Pray tell, what do they eat? Yes, they are starting to starve. Were there farms there in some areas? One cannot raise herds of animals without grazing lands. This concerns me, being a practical person, and I'm bothered that I have to explain to myself how they might have been surviving. Surely not on game alone; game is sparse. Trade with fisher-folk? Bah.
Jorah Mormont: wonderful character, but suffers from being separated from his major earlier narrative. Still, I relish his sad story. It looks like he's going to have an interesting trajectory.
I can't say there's not enough Tyrion. There's more than enough. Maybe too much. He becomes a bit of a caricature of himself, with his wise and sarcastic inner voice. He's up to something, but we don't know quite what.
The dragons are great, well-imagined fearsome, powerful, and untamed creatures. They are problematic in ways that people didn't quite envision. What will become of them?
And then there is Jon's probably death at the end. NOOOOO! Does he survive? Does he shift his consciousness into Ghost? Ooh. (less)
I read a posthumously published trade paperback provided by the publisher. Titan Books’ The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a series of short...moreI read a posthumously published trade paperback provided by the publisher. Titan Books’ The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a series of short novels by different authors, borrowing Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous characters for newly minted adventures. The books may have some relationship to each other; in this novel there are several oblique references to something that happened earlier involving vampires, but as I haven’t read the other books in the series, I was somewhat perplexed by the references. There may be a relationship to another book by Saberhagen, published by Tor, The Holmes-Dracula File.
This book can best be described as a cutesy pastiche that recruits fictional and historical characters in a failed attempt to create an interesting story in the style of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Prince Dracula — you know, Sherlock Holmes’ distinguished Romanian cousin — plays the role of narrator, with clumsy transitions to Dr. Watson’s traditional narrative.
The pace of the first half of the book is unnecessarily drawn out, with padded descriptions and tiresome speculative dialogue between characters regarding the true events of the murder, the nature of séances, and the ostensible reality of an apparition. I thought that the brother and sister mediums were the most interesting characters, but they play little or no role in the last half of the book.
The extended, flat, and un-atmospheric descriptions, the mostly sketchy characterizations, plus the uneven pace, with an abrupt denouement packed into the last chapter — requiring an epilogue to satisfy the MacGuffin* (here played by “The Treasure”) — suggests to me that this work was an unfinished draft by Saberhagen, later completed by an un-credited hack who cared as little for the story as Saberhagen.
The writer knows the haunts of early 20th century Holmsiana, but the tone is more “Robert Downey Jr.” than “Basil Rathbone.” If you loved The Hound of the Baskervilles, you will despise this book.
In summary, I give this effort two of ten stars for tromping around carelessly on the grave of Sir Arthur, and for boring me for 278 pages.
* The MacGuffin is best known as Alfred Hitchcock’s term for a plot element that drives a story, whose specific character is irrelevant; it’s an irrational fulcrum to explain character motivation.