This book surprised me. I wasn't sure if I would like it. I've read very little supernatural fantasy, and a lot of bad television shows had made me waThis book surprised me. I wasn't sure if I would like it. I've read very little supernatural fantasy, and a lot of bad television shows had made me wary of the whole genre. And that cover art! It has aged very badly. The ghosts are wonderful, but I didn't feel like I could feel anything for Fabio's dark-haired step-brother with the terrible fashion sense (that haircut! those sleeves! that neckline!). So I studiously ignored the guy on the cover, and instead replaced him with a cross between Jon Snow and Dr Gregory House, because our protagonist does seem to have a few things in common with the snarky doctor besides the leg. He's smart, and self-assured to the point of arrogance, and while seldom as witty he did seem to hold himself with the same sort of sneering stoicism that covers a dead sea of depression in some characters. I didn't 'like' like him, but he was fun to read about, and only partly due to his intriguing career.
I like that the ghosts had their own personalities and weren't just something for the hero to defeat. And there wasn't a simple 'ghost bad, people good' narrative, as much as it started out that was (partly due to the viewpoint of the main character). It got stickier as it progressed - more complicated. And while some bits might have been ruined by a certain movie I won't name in order to avoid spoilers, the ending was still satisfying (and left wide open for a sequel or simply personal speculation without being a cliffhanger - I am so sick of cliffhangers so this is a welcome relief).
The scenes are well enough described that I had little trouble imagining mountain streams, and leaning towers, cracked dry ground or even ghostly battles. It's good if your reader isn't confused or lost even when half the characters in the scene are intangible (or even most of the scenery).
A good entry point for the genre - at least I hope it is being pretty much new to this style of book. I hope there are more like this one....more
It's hard to review a book of short fiction when every story is so different. I can only summarise how I felt about the book as a whole (unless I go iIt's hard to review a book of short fiction when every story is so different. I can only summarise how I felt about the book as a whole (unless I go into every story individually). So, with many of the stories I found myself getting lost as the story submerged into more technical detail. I don't mind hard sci-fi, but sometimes it seems that stories can suffer as if they are merely vessels for scientific pondering. When that happens, if you don't have the scientific grounding to appreciate those musings, you can end up getting lost. I think that is what happened to me here, and perhaps why I found the less 'hard' stories more entertaining (such as the last story, "Doing Lennon", which I felt was one of the best of the lot, along with "Of Space/Time and the River" which was like a detailed delirium after drinking the wrong water on a Nile cruise).
The other stories - I found myself skipping through at places, which is something I rarely do and a sign that I'm really not enjoying it as much as I'm trying to. I lost the stream of the story too often, and found that I wasn't interested in the characters, or that the interesting characters did not stick around long enough. I guess that these stories were a great way to play with concepts, but as stories in themselves, I just couldn't keep a grasp on many of them....more
When my friend recommended this book, at first the name of the author didn't click. Then I realised "Oh! It's Cat Valente!" I had heard her both speakWhen my friend recommended this book, at first the name of the author didn't click. Then I realised "Oh! It's Cat Valente!" I had heard her both speaking and her books discussed on quite a few podcasts so I was even more curious to find out whether I would like the book.
It took me a while to get into the writing style. I think of this style of writing as full of instinctive ornament - I say instinctive because sometimes the words used don't really make sense when you think about it, but they sound right and seem to fit. There is a lot of descriptive simile and metaphor and who cares if clouds don't really have foamy, sapphire flesh? The idea is indulgent and dripping with imagery like the thick paint of a Van Gogh. It's better to just go with the flow and let the images coalesce in your head without too much thought. Then everything seems to come together like a mosaic, and it's fun to realise that the experience must be very different for every reader as so much is dependent on what your brain pulls from the obscure and laden descriptions.
The stories themselves are more like short stories that have been nested together - which is sometimes frustrating as just as you think you are at the end of a story another one cuts into it and you have to wait. And the stories end up so separated from their endings it's hard to get a sense of completeness. But it leads to some complex interlinking of the stories and characters, even if it is hard to keep track sometimes. I enjoyed all the stories and the touches of well known fairy tales among the ones unique to the book, but I still had a disquieting sense that nothing had really been tied up in a satisfying way. And of course the top level story - the story in the night garden of the title - isn't finished at all, and goes on into a second novel.
Still, I enjoyed the stories very much. I loved the fearlessly indulgent descriptions and the deep colours and fragrances they invoked. It's a book full of midnight blue and indigo and sandalwood and cinnamon. The monsters are inventive and stereotypes are handily avoided. There are also a plethora of strong female characters of all sorts of shapes and sizes (and male too, but I guess I am used to, in my limited reading of fantasy, an overindulgence of male characters with only a few whispy girls). I would definitely recommend it to others who want to read a unique story with beautifully painted settings, as long as they weren't too confused by watching Inception as otherwise they might have a great deal of trouble with the many levels of nested stories....more
There is no clear division between Science Fiction and Fantasy (one reason they are often lumped together) and The Homeward Bounders is one of those bThere is no clear division between Science Fiction and Fantasy (one reason they are often lumped together) and The Homeward Bounders is one of those books that straddles the two categories without falling easily into either.
Less whimsical than her other stories, this book contains both demons and magic and machines and sci-fi concepts like parallel universes in equal measure. The story centers around a boy who sees something he should not, and is snatched away from his home and 'discarded' - traveling between a series of wildly different worlds until he can find he way back to his Home. On the way he of course meets a variety of distinct characters and comes up against many difficult situations- most of which are caused by the rules and interferences of antagonists known simply and 'Them'.
I found that I didn't really connect with the main character until right at the very end, when his current situation becomes truly clear (as the story itself starts at the end, with most of the plot being told as Jamie records his story for some unknown audience). Then I did feel sad for him. But most of the male characters seemed to blur together a bit (except Konstam, who wouldn't allow himself to blur into anything), and only the two main female characters really stood out - Helen's introversion and grumpiness, and Vanessa's mix of annoying big sister and cool assurance. I think I would have been happier with a story all about Helen - maybe not in first person (after all, it's best to allow her to keep her sense of mystery), but I'm sure she would have plenty of interesting tales to tell.
All up, a bit grimmer than other Diana Wynne Jones stories, and perhaps for an older (tweens/early teens) audience, but still a very interesting concept....more
I've been home sick, and consequently ploughing through the books on my 'To Read' shelf (the real life physical one in the spare room, not the one onI've been home sick, and consequently ploughing through the books on my 'To Read' shelf (the real life physical one in the spare room, not the one on Goodreads). I suppose I could have picked up something longer, but I felt like indulging myself to take my minds off how miserable I had been feeling. And I just knew this would be the perfect book to take my away from myself for a while.
And it worked.
Two short days, and the book is read and done, and I'm sad that it's all over. But glad that I now know the full story that I had only seen in glimpses in The Blue Sword. The story reads just as well as The Blue Sword, with a similar theme of an outcast girl finding an honoured place in Damarian society against the odds (and a little flirty chaste romance along the way). There is magic, and of course dragons, and the Hero of the story does not always get away cleanly and is proved not to be completely infallible. And there are still, of course, the wonderfully characterised horses and animals seen in The Blue Sword, and a few unexpected origins stories along the way.
If the ending is a little meandering and not quite satisfactory, I can forgive the book that much. The world is just too easy to dive into and lose yourself, and the story flows along so easily. Definitely a book worth taking a wander through.
This is a blast from the past - a re-read of a book from my university 2nd-hand book store trawls. I read it so long ago that could not remember any oThis is a blast from the past - a re-read of a book from my university 2nd-hand book store trawls. I read it so long ago that could not remember any of it so this is as good as a first reading.
The book examines what might happen when humans gain the technology to farm the seas in the way they farm the land, interspersed with various adventures with the dangers of the deep seas. The technology is sometimes outlandish but interesting, and even though Arthur C Clarke made great predictions about the internet, it doesn't seem to make it into this book, which twists some of the technical progress in an interesting way. Things would have been very different if they all had smart phones. It's fun to look at the future from the perspective of the 50s and 60s.
There are several distinct stages of the book, which are almost short stories in themselves, but they are threaded together by the career of the protagonist as he recovers from a traumatic end to his previous role and builds a new life for himself.
Arthur C. Clarke was well traveled, and this book gets a whole extra star for being set in Australia, much of it in my home city, without inducing any cringing whatsoever. That is so incredibly rare in non-Australian authors. Usually Australia does not even warrant a mention, and if it does it's either blatantly wrong or insultingly stereotyped (I'm referring to you, 'The Sparrow'!) To set it in a specific location in Australia that isn't Sydney or Ayers rock is even better! So all credit to you, Mr Clarke.
That doesn't mean that the book was completely free of embarrassments. The narrative has a thin, slimy coating of innate sexism, so if that bothers you a lot this book might make you angry. Wives obviously give up careers when they have children while their husbands are home so little the kids complain of not recognising them. Not only are people in positions of power entirely men, but the wife is set off to consult with all the other wives to find out their man's opinions behind their backs. This despite the wife being clever and competent and a scientist in her own right (due points for that Mr Clarke) but the complete lack of any women in government or amongst the protagonist's peers (apart from a few lowly researchers) is really glaring. And this in an age of 'universal education'? It just doesn't make any sense. I guess it's just a sign of the time - the book was published in 1957, after all. But while references to tapes and faxes might be quaint, the inherent sexism is still bitter.
There's also the issue of hunting whales for meat. That's obviously a much bigger issue today than it was in the 1950s, when commercial whaling was at a peak and the 1986 ban on commercial whaling was a long way away. I forgave the book that controversy for that reason -but to my suprise near the end of the book that issue becomes the focus in a way that I found ultimately satisfying, and which showed that even though Mr Clarke might not have realised the devastating impact whaling was having on whale populations, he was obviously thinking about the ethical issues.
Overall, though, this is an interesting if slightly dated read, old enough to be considered 'retro fiction' if that is a term....more
This is another random second-hand pickup. The name reminded me of an online game I used to play. It turned out to be a short novella - almost a shortThis is another random second-hand pickup. The name reminded me of an online game I used to play. It turned out to be a short novella - almost a short story - about a troubled teenager who struggles with his purpose in the world. That's a pretty fancy way of putting it though. The story is written in the protagonist's voice and he isn't one for deep thought or planning. That's most of his trouble.
The perspective is interesting, but it strikes me as the sort of story that anyone in a similar situation would roll their eyes at as though it was a tryhard attempt to get into the teenager mind and explain why they act the way they do. It a lot of ways, the protagonist reminded me of the nihilistic tribe in Soldiers of Paradise who shun any kind of thinking or planning or anything apart from the current moment. Rusty-James seems to have no idea what he's doing past the next party or fight.
Interesting story, but not really my cup of tea....more
One things I worried about when I decided to dip my toe into fantasy novels, is ending up with an endless row of Tolkien knockoffs full of unlikely naOne things I worried about when I decided to dip my toe into fantasy novels, is ending up with an endless row of Tolkien knockoffs full of unlikely names, improbable geography and excessive genealogies. What a relief so far to find books with real substance and guts, where the story flows as easily as quicksilver.
I don't think I have a full measure of Kvothe's character (or Bast or Denna or any of the others). I'm really not sure if I'd trust any of them. But that's probably just about right for a book that is obviously part of a longish series and a story only part told. The books takes the form of Kvothe telling his own story to a biographer, with indications that even though the story is mostly looking backwards there are still plenty of things happening in the present. The sotry does not take many predictable paths and I rarely found myself anticipating what would happen even in the next few pages, as just as I thought I knew what would happen next the story would veer off or surface back to present-day Kvothe.
The later story does venture into boy-wizard territory but it's practically impossible to have any sort of magic school with a boy genius and not have tinges of Harry Potter. But if anything, this is a much darker, grittier Harry Potter, free of whimsy and with a healthy dose of juvenile deliquency, theft, cheating and floggings. And despite frequently getting the better of his opponents, Kvothe is always bought back down to earth with a thud (just as I suppose HP often is, but Kvothe's thuds are much bloodier and desperate).
But despite the grit, it's not a depressing book. It's just more firmly grounded and closer to our reality, despite magic and 'dragons' and alchemy and pseudo pre-industrial society. Even the magic seems to be spun out from physics and science, rather that plucked out of the air. And when I reached the last dozen pages and realised there was no way the many questions I had were going to be answered in the short space remaining, I was sad the way I only can be with a good book. Still, I was happy to find the current book was tied off nicely with none of the god-awful cliffhangers that books and novels seem fond of lately (and are sometimes enough to make me boycott the next part). I'm looking forward to the story continuing....more
Ever wanted a book that grabs hold of you and takes you galloping off into the desert, to live among a hidden tribe of warriors and magicians? Full ofEver wanted a book that grabs hold of you and takes you galloping off into the desert, to live among a hidden tribe of warriors and magicians? Full of evocative landscapes, strong characters and hidden destinies?
As a teenager I adored this book so much that I 'acquired' it from the school library (it still bears the stamps), something I'd usually find unthinkable, but something about this book meant I just could not let it go. And now, re-reading it over 20 years later, I find it still works the same magic on me, even more so now that it's tinged with nostalgia, and full of strange tunnels back into my own teenage mind. Scenes and sometimes whole passages leapt back into my brain as I read them, even as I was carried off into the story just as Harry was abducted by the Hillmen. And instead of doing everything else I was supposed to be doing in the last two days I sat for hours reading.
Parts of the book are pretty predictable, the way many books with heros can be. It's set in a background of colonisation of a forbidding desert country - the Homelanders seem to be an alt-history Victorians impressing their values onto a foreign land, while the Hillmen could be any number of unconquered hold-outs in India or Africa although there is a very definite Middle Eastern vibe. The book is well-written, with very descriptive scenery and wonderful depictions of horses (despite never having a close relationship with horses, I could really picture Sungold shaking his head and digging his hoof into the ground) which make it a definite for any horse-loving, fantasy-loving reader. It can get a little wordy at times (it seems most of the characters have taken speech-writing courses) and the phrasing a bit old-fashioned, but there is enough action to make that forgivable even if a lot of the actual battle detail is left out (there are very few blow-for-blow descriptions of fighting, most of it is skipped over). The book does not contain gore and is amazingly chaste - romance lovers may find it a little lacking in that department but if my teenage self if anything to go by you'll have no trouble filling in the missing details! The ending is very 'happily ever after', but I don't resent it. At least it ties up the loose ends, unlike many fantasy books I've read.
Overall, I was delighted to find how well the book has aged. It had been so long I had forgotten most of the actual plot (although I knew bits and pieces) but I think this is one of those books that is fun to read even if you now what's going to happen, just as it seems like it would be fun to gallop down a path you've ridden down before. Now, where can I get my own Narknon?...more
Much has been written about the interesting use of gender in Ancillary Justice, but really that is only part of what makes this book refreshingly diffMuch has been written about the interesting use of gender in Ancillary Justice, but really that is only part of what makes this book refreshingly different. It's just a part of the many unique cultures and social arrangements in the book, both alien and humanoid. What could be more alien than a human society that has taken something that divides us since birth and made it utterly irrelevant, to the point that they find it difficult to recognise in others? But there is more to it than that...
The book touches on many ethical dilemma, from recognition of artificial intelligence, what classifies something as a 'human', whether annexation of another civilisation by force can ever by justifies, to a person's own sense of self (which is something which troubles many of the main characters). As the characters often find it difficult describing what exactly, or who exactly, they are it's just as difficult to do it in a review, but let's just say things get very complicated. But despite the complexity I never felt lost in the book.
The first half of the book bounces between current events, and a flashback which mostly focuses on a secondary character. As the flashback finishes, the latter half of the book focuses more solidly on a single time and I found I missed the slow tying-together of past and present. Part of me wishes that the main character had been split and bouncing back and forth between it's own selves - something that would be very difficult to carry off but it fits the theme of the book and given the skill of the writer I think she could get away with it. Maybe we'll see something like that in the later books.
Overall, I recommend this wholeheartedly. It's not hard sci-fi (warp gates, artificial gravity and various other space opera staples are present but never really explained) instead focusing on more human dilemmas. It's might be a more difficult read to someone not used to science fiction, but I found it flowed very nicely. And it has plenty of action and 'thinky stuff' to keep a variety of readers interested. Not a dull moment - I was always wanting to know what happened next....more
This book is another of my random secondhand book selections, and I was pleasantly surprised. I have made it a goal to read more fantasy, and this wasThis book is another of my random secondhand book selections, and I was pleasantly surprised. I have made it a goal to read more fantasy, and this was one of the few at Bookfest that looked interesting (the cover shows men on horned, bird-headed horses), but I really did not know what to expect. What I did find was a detailed bit of world-building, and two very well written cultures set against each other on a planet with strange and long drawn-out seasons.
The book starts with the first culture, a nihilistic society that lives in the present and spurns everything else - planning, thinking, memories and even names. They dance and sing and play music and live only from moment to moment, preferring to speak with music rather than words. They only survive with the help of 'biters'. These are the members of their society that fail to live up to their nihilistic standards and who plan ahead and use words instead of music to communicate.
This society soon clashes with the other prominent culture on their version of Earth - this society has a rigid caste structure ruled by rich families and priests who use strange arcane technologies which involve both magic and science mixed together. This society is waging war against many others, including 'heretics' among their own race, and their sprawling city is full of slums and slaves and untouchables, as well as mansions and temples and priests performing convoluted rituals.
While the world building is rich and well-structured, the story itself seemed to ramble from character to character and I found the various endings partial and unsatisfactory. It made me think this must be part of a series as so many threads were left untied (I've yet to check if this is the case because I don't like to read anything else about a story before I review it). This left me feeling a little lost and it made it hard to care about the fates of the many and varied characters introduced in the story. The book ends with at least one cliffhanger and a lot of death and chaos but the purpose, if any, is unclear and the outcome a complete mystery.
But overall the book is worth it if only for the depiction of the cultures and the alien yet familiar planet with it's strange seasons that can last a life-time and the peculiar orbit of it's planets and the gentle way the reader is introduced to the strangeness of the world - you may assume for instance that the 'horses' referred to are just like ours until the author mentions their beaks, and not until the end do you discover their vestigial wings. It's a great way to have a reader discover the world in bits and pieces instead of one long initial exposition....more
I've started re-reading the Terry Pratchett books I already had on my shelf but had not read in many years. I find it hard to know what to say about tI've started re-reading the Terry Pratchett books I already had on my shelf but had not read in many years. I find it hard to know what to say about this book. Yes - I enjoyed it! I love all the little particles of humour spread out in curious phrasings and ironic observations. I like the Shakespeare references (and the other references) and the plot is not just buttoned together by the funny bits but interesting in it's own right. And the world is round and robust and a bizarre but real-seeming thing. But I find it very hard to do a critical reading of Pratchett - what I've just said could be said about just about any Pratchett book. He has a fairly consistent style of writing. It's really an 'either you like it or you don't' kind of writing. All I can suggest is that people read it and find out....more
This collection of stories was a real mixed bag. The first story is not the strongest so I was discouraged - it read like Hemingway fan fiction - butThis collection of stories was a real mixed bag. The first story is not the strongest so I was discouraged - it read like Hemingway fan fiction - but comes back with the amazing imagery in The Women. I particularly liked the passage about the melted glass waves. The whole story had the feeling of the Twilight Zone episode. Other stories seem to be of varying genres - from horror to sci-fi to drama. It is definitely not purely science fiction. Most have a very 'proper' English feel to them when compared to modern fiction (especially Henry the Ninth). The Haunting of the New, however, has a very distinctive Art Deco atmosphere, and I could practically hear the accents. Overall, many of the stories were a bit of a struggle, but it was worth it for the few gems. But there just wasn't enough consistency to make this a great collection....more
It's hard for me to congeal all my thoughts about The Stand into anything short enough for another person to ever want to read. The book is so very loIt's hard for me to congeal all my thoughts about The Stand into anything short enough for another person to ever want to read. The book is so very long and although I haven't kept track I must have read it at least a dozen times. This means that my opinion of the book has been slowly forming over several decades, let alone the weeks it took me for this re-read. I simply can't remember all the important things I've thought about this book.
Obviously I like it. I don't often re-read books at all, so to have read this book so many times and enjoyed it each time (-and made it to the END every single time!) it has to be something special. For this, the length is an advantage. I do not have a steel-trap memory, so there are always plenty of little details to enjoy fresh each time, even if the major twists and turns are already known far in advance. That's another special thing about this book - it's enjoyable even when you know what's going to happen. It takes a particularly magical kind of writing for that to be true - and in The Stand it's all wrapped up in strong characters and little details. It's wrapped up in Frannie's angry taunting of Jesse and her bitten tongue, Larry's constant self-abasement and his hokey detective inner-monologue. It's a mix of well-built personalities, and a fleshed out world that is full of the interesting little quirks and observations that anyone might make in a trip to the corner store but transferred into post-apocalyptic suburbia.
I still have burning questions about the book (the most burning being how did some of the deaths seem to have occurred almost instantly such as on the army bases - as if they were killed even faster than poison gas?), but these I can mostly ignore. I'm sure there is a lot of other nitpicking to make (such as the Payday Bar controversy, and the retconning of the expanded release into a later timeframe which results in a lot of weirdly outdated references and language) but none of that bothered me enough to take away from the story.
So after all that how do I describe the stand? Well, It's like Walking Dead where the corpses stay down. It's a long Lord of the Ring-style ramble through post-apocalyptic America, with some religion, magic and horror thrown into the pot, and more interesting characters (still a lot of walking, but much better paced). Anyone who has read and liked a King book ought to make time for it, as well as anyone who enjoys a good apocalypse, or likes a character drama but isn't scared of a little horror.
I probably have a few re-readings of The Stand in my future. I have gotten into the habit of reading it whenever I have a bad cold or flu (really adds to the experience and you know you're not going to run out of book before you run out of flu). This time I read it for the Incomparable Book Club, which was a wrench because I didn't have a flu so I was breaking my rule. However after the first week I *did* start to get a flu. Which makes me wonder - after all those days clutching snotty tissues as I read the book over the years, has my copy been inoculating some real-life germs of it's own? So anyone who would like an extra-authentic reading of The Stand, you are welcome to borrow my copy. Just be careful of the taped up spine and don't you dare lose it - I have some reading time booked in with that copy further down the track....more