I have to say, I'm envious of how simple and unadorned Heinlein's writing is. His writing is not flowery or poetic or stylish, it just kind of "is." A...moreI have to say, I'm envious of how simple and unadorned Heinlein's writing is. His writing is not flowery or poetic or stylish, it just kind of "is." And yet, his stories move alone briskly and are full of believable characters and places. Frankly, I'd give a lot to be able to write as effortlessly as Heinlein seemed to.
So, the book itself. I liked it. The story takes place over three distinct settings in three distinct--and yet entirely human and believable--cultures. The main character, Thorby, a slave with no memory of his past, is purchased by an old beggar who raises him as his son. The beggar is not who he seems to be, of course, and the story goes on from there. It never becomes epic and there's never any galaxy-shaking action, but the way that the beginning of the story and the lessons Thorby learns there inform the rest of the novel lead to a conclusion that follows entirely naturally from the beginning of the story. It's something more authors, myself included, could learn.
Heinlein writes believable cultures, like I mentioned, but I particularly love how he tackles the way that culture informs language, and vice versa. The Free Traders, for instance, have complex names for familial relationships because the peace is kept on their ships through strict--if informal--enforcement of family hierarchies. It's a subtle touch, and Heinlein keeps the infodumps mercifully short, but I loved it nonetheless.
My only real complaints about the novel were that it contained some typical golden-age-sf weirdness, like an emphasis on perfect memory techniques and theraputic hypnosis that seem charmingly quaint and are hard to take seriously. A few of the characters in the last act are largely straw men, which is particularly disappointing after all the life characters had in the earlier sections. The final resolution is told, rather than shown, and what should be a climactic showdown is avoided entirely.
I'm probably the last person to read this book, but if you by some chance haven't picked up a copy but enjoy classic science fiction, you'll definitely enjoy this one.(less)
It's funny how this same plot keeps popping up again, from King Solomon's Mines to Avatar. And by funny, I mean annoying, and it needs to stop. Basica...moreIt's funny how this same plot keeps popping up again, from King Solomon's Mines to Avatar. And by funny, I mean annoying, and it needs to stop. Basically, it's like this: our plucky heroes travel either intentionally or otherwise to some other world which is filled with primitive but noble savages. Uh oh! Those savages are under attack by a bunch of UN-noble savages! They're incapable of defending themselves! Time for our (invariably white, male) heroes to teach them how to fight war, while also becoming their champions! Hurrah!
Yeah, so the story is trite as hell and contains absolutely no surprises. It was competently told, but I really had to shake my head at its unoriginality.
The characters are somewhat better, fortunately. Not all the natives (lemur-like human analogs, in this case) were cardboard cutouts, and the Navy men are all unique and well-characterized despite there being about a hundred of them. It's actually a bit of a feat: they're all introduced at just a perfect rate to keep the reader's attention without overwhelming them.
The naval combat is where the book really shines. In fact, the traditional naval battle that makes up the first few scenes of the book is one of its strongest features. I really felt like I was on a World War II destroyer, going up against impossible odds in a desperate fight for life. Little features like the sounds of the salvo buzzer to the concern about fuel-air mixtures really sold me on the setting. The book gets 2 stars for that alone, and that's really why it got a series instead of ignored.
I can't recommend this book particularly strongly, but it was short and fun. You could do worse.(less)
I love Myst. It's one of my favorite gaming series. And I remembered reading this book when I was younger and really enjoying it. There seems to be so...moreI love Myst. It's one of my favorite gaming series. And I remembered reading this book when I was younger and really enjoying it. There seems to be some contention on this point, but I think the book evokes the game nicely. Whether it could stand alone is a little harder to tell, and for me, entirely beside the point.
The author(s) do a great job of giving the world a feeling of mystery and the unknown, just like the games do. Atrus's ability to use observation and science to affect his world is a cool character concept entirely in theme with the series, and his confrontation with Gehn over their clashing worldviews is a thread that runs through the entire Myst canon.
The writing was plain and unadorned, which worked well. It was rarely exciting, but it was a fast, enjoyable read that made me want to start the next one right away.(less)
I'll be honest: Scoundrels was a bit disappointing for me, and my rating reflects that.
First, the good: there are a lot of characters in th...more3.5 stars.
I'll be honest: Scoundrels was a bit disappointing for me, and my rating reflects that.
First, the good: there are a lot of characters in this novel, especially considering its length, and they're all highly distinct and interesting. Kudos to Zahn for pulling that off. The heist that forms the core of the book is an interesting problem, and I really enjoyed watching the gang go about pulling it off.
The problem, though: Scoundrels didn't really feel like Star Wars. I mean, it did superficially (although Zahn blessedly stays away from the excessive "star-warsy" language of some authors) but the plot was too cozy and the action too confined. There was a lot of investigation, stake-outs, and planning, which was just too slow for Star Wars.
Maybe what I really mean is this: the plot of Scoundrels would've been great as a roleplaying game adventure. It just isn't all that thrilling to be told about it later. I still love Zahn, and I can't call the book bad. It's just...disappointing.(less)
Oof, what a tome. Audiotome. It took a long time to listen to.
Anyway, excellent book. Goodwin really brings in the primary sources...moreCall this 4.5 stars.
Oof, what a tome. Audiotome. It took a long time to listen to.
Anyway, excellent book. Goodwin really brings in the primary sources, especially personal journals, that make the historical figures come alive, like real people. It's obvious that the film Lincoln was based on this book, even though the events of the film are covered in mere paragraphs. Lincoln, Seward, Stanton: an actor could easily step into any of these roles with this book.
It's actually interesting that I don't have a lot to say about this book. It was good, really good at times. And it really brought the history home, like I mentioned. And yet it lacked the most important part of any history book: the "so what?"
Unlike, say, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin or Vietnam: A History, Team of Rivals didn't aim for any greater message. Goodwin made Lincoln seem alive, but made no major effort to apply his principles in any greater way. To merely recount dates and events, even as expertly as Goodwin did, can make for good history, but great history has to say something universal, or at least broader than its immediate subject area. Unfortunately, Team of Rivals sadly doesn't.
Despite two full paragraphs decrying the book's shortcomings, I am by no means saying I didn't like it. At times, I loved it. It's detailed, and despite that and its length, it doesn't really feel long. It's also a great snapshot of a very important era in history, and does contain some important truths for today...you just have to find them yourself.(less)
A pleasant overview of a subject I knew almost nothing about. Ingrassia covers the entire history of the automotive industry in the US, repeatedly dri...moreA pleasant overview of a subject I knew almost nothing about. Ingrassia covers the entire history of the automotive industry in the US, repeatedly driving home the themes of mismanagement and distrust at every turn.
Ingrassia writes in an engaging and easy-to-read style that occasionally verges on the overly wry. Though he maintains credibility, he occasionally stretches the point in order to accommodate some groanworthy pun or play on words. The text is useful as a survey, but it's a little too shallow and "popular," for lack of a better word, for someone searching for a real meaty account of automotive history.
Basically, I'd recommend the book if you're like me and have almost no knowledge on the subject. Beyond that, you'll probably want a more scholarly book.(less)
First there were hobos. Then came the molemen. Now, there is Ragnarok!
Seriously, if you've read Hodgman's first two books of complete world knowledge...moreFirst there were hobos. Then came the molemen. Now, there is Ragnarok!
Seriously, if you've read Hodgman's first two books of complete world knowledge (or listened to them, at any rate), you know what to expect. There are more celebrity guests here and a more organized theme (the apocalypse is continuously mentioned) but it's pretty much what it says on the tin.
I picked this one up in a "5 for $20" bin of paperbacks at Chicon 7. Partially, I was amused because the super-70s cover credits two authors who happe...moreI picked this one up in a "5 for $20" bin of paperbacks at Chicon 7. Partially, I was amused because the super-70s cover credits two authors who happen to be the same person. Partially, I read a sample on Amazon years ago and was interested.
So, it was okay. For being written in the 50s, the way Mars was handled was easy enough to swallow (no little green men). The problem was that it wasn't necessary in the slightest.
The story is one of bureaucratic corruption. Everyone from the mayor on down through the police and civil service is utterly self-interested. Graft is official policy. Gangs are employed as mercenaries, and their own extortion is quietly condoned. It's pretty depressing stuff, and compelling enough (I really wanted the antagonists to get killed) but it's not really science fiction. Set the story in Dodge City, 1880 and it barely changes, except for the push-button-save-world ending. It was basically Walking Tall with space suits.
Also, there's an antagonistic but vague (and thoroughly sexist) conflict between the primary character and his love interest. For some reason she hates him and keeps trying to kill him, but she can't, because he's so manly and impulsive? I didn't really follow. Her transformation into loving and thoroughly traditional wife at the end was really jarring and Stepford Wives-ish.
All in all, it was a fun story for 200 pages. I don't regret the $4 I spent on it or the few hours I put into reading it. On the other hand, I can't really recommend it to anyone other than a total nerd for classic science fiction. There's just much better stuff out there.(less)
I picked this book up at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum after seeing some of the exhibits they had there on early humans, and it was a great c...moreI picked this book up at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum after seeing some of the exhibits they had there on early humans, and it was a great choice. The authors--one an anthropologist and the other a psychologist--did a great job of pulling together disparate sources to put together a convincing, if highly incomplete, view of Neandertals.
The real value of the book, at least for me, weren't the areas that talked about our human cousins. There just isn't enough information to really draw firm conclusions, and a lot of the information is by necessity based on very little evidence and a lot of supposition. It was evocative and easy read though definitely not scholarly.
No, the best parts for me was where the authors explained elements of the Homo Sapiens experience by way of contrast with the Neandertals. This text is the first I've ever read that explained semiotics in a relevant and useful way, for instance, by explaining how the Neandertals likely lacked the ability to make abstract symbols and what that might mean for their culture (or lack of culture, more likely).
I'd recommend this book to anyone with a scientifically literate mind who likes learning something new. It's a short read, but an entertaining one.
This makes, what, three 5-star books in a row for me? Apparently I'm just good at picking 'em.(less)
I probably never would've thought to buy a James Bond audiobook, but my parents purchased it for a road trip and I got to listen to it afterward. This...moreI probably never would've thought to buy a James Bond audiobook, but my parents purchased it for a road trip and I got to listen to it afterward. This is the first Bond novel I've read, although I've seen probably half the films.
To be honest, it was pretty much what I expected. That's not bad thing at all; the novel moved quickly, had some good action, intrigue, and sex romance. The plot was crazy unrealistic, but not bombastic and corny as the films, and I think Goldfinger made a more convincing villain in the novel. Likewise, the novel makes far fewer attempts at humor than the film and that's to its credit.
I feel like there isn't a whole lot I can say about the novel apart from its Bond-ness. I liked it, but I'm glad it wasn't longer. I'll read another Bond novel for sure, but I don't feel the need to do so immediately. If you think you'll like Goldfinger, then you probably will, but if Bond isn't your speed this probably won't change your mind. All in all, a well put-together book, and a fun one, if not an exceptional one.(less)
Warm Bodies is probably the only novel in existence to have blurbs by both Simon Pegg and Stephanie Meyer. Both of these blurbs make perfect sense.
On...moreWarm Bodies is probably the only novel in existence to have blurbs by both Simon Pegg and Stephanie Meyer. Both of these blurbs make perfect sense.
On the one hand, it's a non-human romance. A zombie falls in love, for heaven's sake, and if that doesn't pique your interest you probably don't like awesome things. It's fascinating. On the other hand, its zombies are different than your normal brain-eaters insofar as they have feelings. If you're expected Dawn of the Dead, you're going to be disappointed.
The entire story is very much a metaphor, and it's kind of an obvious one. Zombies have classically (that is, before the current glut of zombie stories) been metaphors for the worst excesses of Western culture: mindless people driven entirely by their desire to consume. In this case, that metaphor is moved right out into the open, and in fact it involves most interesting zombie origin story I've ever read.
It's a metaphor that could've been mishandled, and it does get a bit ham-fisted in the end. Throughout, though, I felt carried along by the relatable characters and a a plot that never got boring. I always wanted to see what was going to happen next, and putting the book down so I could sleep was always hard. It took effort not to read the book in one night, for that matter. It gets maximum use out of its 250 pages.
I'd recommend this one for anyone who likes romance, zombies, or zombie romance. (less)
What a bipolar book. It took me awhile to figure out what to rate it, because half of the book is excellent, and the other half is absolutely terrible...moreWhat a bipolar book. It took me awhile to figure out what to rate it, because half of the book is excellent, and the other half is absolutely terrible.
So, the conceit of the book is that historians can travel back in time to directly observe the contemporaries in their chosen period. So, half of the book takes place in the 1300s, and half in 2054, with chapters largely alternating between the viewpoint character in each timeline.
The 1300s chapters are awesome. They're an intimate, largely accurate portrayal of the Medieval period, with all the filth and ignorance you'd expect. However, the characters are very human, and they're no more filthy and ignorant than the fellows in 2054 (one of the book's themes). I really cared about a lot of the characters in the past, even though the viewpoint character wasn't very well developed. If the book had been JUST from this character's viewpoint, it would've been a 5-star novel.
But the other half of the book, the 2054 portion, is terrible. Easily half of the action involves the main character trying to call people on the phone, but getting a busy signal. No answering machines, no cell phones. Aside from references to holographs, the 2054 sections very nearly could've taken place in 1954. Obviously I don't expect spec fic authors to have perfect predictive powers, but THE ENTIRE PLOT depends on technology not being available that would become prolific just 5 or 6 years after the book was published.
Add in cardboard characters (some of which were little more than walking punchlines) and you can just see the wheels of the plot turning, trying to keep the main character from discovering a certain key bit of information. It was infuriating, especially since the other half of the book was so good.
I'd still recommend it just for the Medieval section, but buy it in print so you can skip past the 2054 chapters. You'll barely miss a thing.(less)
It took me awhile to decide how to rate this book. On the one hand, I'm a fan of Karen Traviss, and when it comes to military-sty...moreCall this 3.5 stars.
It took me awhile to decide how to rate this book. On the one hand, I'm a fan of Karen Traviss, and when it comes to military-style action there are few better writers (funny how the best military SF seems to be tie-in novels...). This book is no exception, and if it had been nothing but action and dudes being badass I would've rated it higher. Those sections were awesome.
But there's a ton of navel-gazing in between the action. The book is mostly about Marcus Fenix and what he did to get sent to the prison where he begins the Gears of War games, as well as his time there. But, Marcus isn't a viewpoint character, so we never really get what's going on in his head. Instead, we get tons of people thinking and speculating about what's going on in there, instead of actually doing stuff. A few characters (Hoffman in particular) do almost nothing but mentally flagellate themselves for putting Marcus in prison and making him suffer.
Still, most of the characters were well drawn, and the setting is properly dark and tragic. The prison was a lot more interesting than it could've been, since it was pretty much a colony of terrible people that was isolated but not really controlled by the prison warders. The interplay between the guards, the other prisoners, and Marcus were some of the book's best moments. And, of course, when the bullets inevitably started flying, it was un-put-downable.
I'd recommend this to anyone who liked the Gears games or likes military SF in general. Maybe buy the paper copy so you can skip past the navel-gazing, but definitely check it out.(less)