This book influenced me so strongly as a teenager that decades later i'm obliged to retain the 5 star rating even though it's nowhere near as great aThis book influenced me so strongly as a teenager that decades later i'm obliged to retain the 5 star rating even though it's nowhere near as great a book as the others i've rated 5 stars. I've probably read it 4 times in my life, but i might never read it again.
I think i identified most with the Mephistopheles character, but boy did i get irritated at multiple instances with various major characters. If we can infer from Brust's characters what he thinks about human character, then we're mostly selfish and deceitful and petty and fearful.
Satan is handcuffed by doubt because of one bad break-up. Lucifer is led by the ring in his nose by the same woman who broke Satan's heart. Mephistopheles is clever and sneaky and sarcastic, but he's unwilling to commit to anything other than cynicism itself. Yaweh [Brust chose this alternate spelling] is an egotist. Yeshuah is psychotic (i was going to string together handfuls of adjectives, but when combined in one psyche, they boil down to simply psychotic). Lilith is powerhungry and emotionally fickle. Abdiel is plain evil because he's such a coward. Asmodai just likes to play with toys. Michael is a dopey strongman who knows he's not "smart" and therefore refuses to speak his mind even when the dumbest angel in heaven could understand that what's happening around him is wrong. I'm not sure what's wrong with Raphael, but she's inert. Beelzebub is faithful and true, but he is 100% sidekick—so he's loyal and that's the extent of his character.
Sounds like i don't like these characters, but that's only true of Abdiel, Yaweh, and Yeshuah—they are sickening types and i wanted them to fail.
As other reviews have pointed out, the entire story hinges on a series of misunderstandings and/or miscommunications, mostly orchestrated by the one rotten apple (who's able to deceive himself into believing he does these things with good intentions).
I think the framework of this novel over-relies on a couple ideas a) we (humans) were created in God's image b) the road to hell is paved with good intentions
Now for the good parts! Or, why i love this novel. It dares to paint "god" as human and Satan likewise. It dares to present a story that "explains" the human experience so tidily (i.e., our life on Earth mirrors what it was like as Heaven became populous enough for interpersonal conflict to arise). It dares to undermine several central tenets of Christianity: that God the Father is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, the creator of everything, etc. It dares to re-tell Paradise Lost, which is—though antiquated and losing hold on the popular mind—a central literary idea in the Western English-speaking world.
In other words, Brust was bold and brave and i must give him credit for that. He also managed to tell a gripping story that is accessible to anybody.
++++++++++++++++++++ Sep '09: i discovered a bunch of my What Do I Read Next? reviews from the mid-90s when i was on a serious SF-canon reading tear (and, apparently, averse to capital letters). ++++++++++++++++++++
Plot Summary: the story behind the revolt of the angels led by satan and told (for the most part) from his perspective. heaven was created by yaweh and satan after they were "born" from the ultimate primordial ooze ("cacoastrum" or "the flux"), but this substance does not give up the fight; it has waged war—in "waves"—against their walls more than once; these battles have resulted in the fortification of heaven's solid defenses and in the creation of more and more beings called angels (hierarchized by what "wave" they came from); after the fourth(?) wave, a plan is devised by which a (more or less) permanent barrier against the flux can be constructed; this plan requires the life-threatening participation of every angel in heaven; these heavenly creatures are not as divine as we might expect them to be, though, and trouble is brewing, factions are formed, and civil war breaks out.
Main Characters: satan—regent of the south, leader of the rebellious angels yaweh—lord of heaven (somewhat), creator of "the plan" abdiel—the bad guy beelzebub—archangel in form of a golden retriever, satan's right hand "man" yeshuah—"son" of yaweh lucifer—regent of the east, organizer of "the plan" mephistopheles—troublemaking archangel, rebellious angel lilith—one of only a few female angels, rebellious angel michael—yaweh's right hand man, strongman raphael—yaweh's left hand woman, healer asmodai—archangel, architect of "the plan," rebellious angel belial—fire-breathing dragon regent of the north, rebellious angel leviathan—sea-serpent ruler of the west, rebellious angel
Time Period: before the beginning of time up to the beginning of time
Comments: according to the copyright page it was originally published by Steel Dragon Press in 1984, but my version is the Ace Fantasy Books paperback version printed in 1985. i think it's out of print now.
a book entitled Inferno was published around the same time in paperback; it's a reworking of Dante's story, but in a modern fantasy novel way; not very good, but it's som'm that others might want to read next. (i feel like the bookstore clerk's worst nightmare: all i remember about the book is the title and what color the cover was.) [2009 note: websearching wasn't readily available to me in 1996 when i wrote this first review—i was using WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS!—but i found the link on Goodreads to the book i was thinking of and, incidentally, bought from the neighborhood drug store]
one of the best things about this novel is its humor, especially the jokes relating to the expectations and archetypes of christianity; for example: the christian big-g god (yaweh) is omnipotent and omniscient, but in this book he says things like "I wish there was something I could do for you," makes faulty assumptions, waffles about what to do, etc.; and satan is so moral that he has a hard time acting for fear of making mistakes; angels turn out to be as petty, vindictive, back-stabbing, and power-hungry as humans; life in heaven is not heavenly; in fact, existence is most aptly characterized by change/chaos/flux.
this is one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy novels of all time and certainly the (pure) fantasy novel that i recommend the most to people who want to read such stuff....more
For 15 years i was an editor of reference books. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that a professional proofreader protagonist/narrator immediately compelled me. The commas-only punctuation, chapter-long sentences, and other idiosyncrasies were so unbelievably perfect for this story (and for me as a reader) that i couldn't put it down despite the difficulties they presented for comprehension. Saramago was forcing me to read more carefully than i had been doing while devouring some of the best and most popular science fiction books of all time.
And i never would've thought that i could enjoy what essentially boils down to a love story so much....more
#3: It's also, possibly, the best college level lecture on fiction ever put into fictional form. Of which, i'm extremely envious because i attempted to write a "paper" in grad school in the form of a Shakespearean comedy in order to convey my assessment of Northrop Frye's assessment of The Bard's form of Comedy (tiresome stuff—and my "dramatization" didn't make it any less bland).
#4: If you choose to read this whole book, you get to experience multiple genres, myriad new and rehashed characters, and some wonderful prose. You get to enjoy the enjoyment of reading and the pleasure of writing and the delight of reading about the pleasure of reading and writing and all kinds of 2nd level experiences that are actually 3rd level because you're getting them through the medium of the novel. I would say that it even has a satisfying conclusion. Mental stimulation suffices for me sometimes, this time especially. If i were a famous writer or critic or reviewer, i'd want "Pleasantly ticklish!" to be the blurb they took from me and put on the back/front cover somewhere.
#5: Do not try to read this novel
if you require something traditional (if there's another book out there like this, then shame on the imitator)
if you want to become totally lost in the experience of reading (because it forces you to read self-consciously—kinda like the self-consciousness of writing your review of this book with your wife looking over your shoulder and your friend's recent praise of your Goodreads reviews running through your mind)
if you need all the storylines to wrap up neatly à la a Seinfeld episode (none? of them do)
or if you dislike translated novels and are not fluent in Italian (y'never know)
#6: Yet another book that i'd love to try to make into a movie. It would need to be converted into a metafilm, of course. I envisioned animation, which would help with the echoing of characters from one intertwined tale to the next.
#7: What a pleasant surprise to've enjoyed this work so much when i detested all 3 attempts to read Cosmicomics. It might be that i expected true science fiction and the disparity between expectation and reality was too great to overcome. My next Calvino book might be The Baron in the Trees (one of his first?) because John Gardner's The Art of Fiction seems to recommend it.
So many books came to mind! But i associate my highly positive response to this book most closely with my Top Shelf assessment of José Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon. Both played every one of the heartstrings related to my lifelong love affair with words, writing, reading, publishing, books—i.e., everything literary. Lisbon has much more heart, though. Winter's Night is an almost purely intellectual experience, and so it barely falls short of being Top Shelf.
Imagine if you will, a novel that's about the experience of a reader who begins to read the very same novel that you, the real life reader, hold in your hands and that is written by the same real life novelist. Here, i'll help you do that by typing the opening lines of the first section (i.e., Chapter One):
You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade.
Calvino tells you how to read his book for an entire chapter. Then the second section begins ... and it's titled "If on a winter's night a traveler" and begins, "The novel begins in a railway station..."! Now Calvino/Narrator narrates as if you are in The Reader's head and that fictional Reader's experience is part of the novel that you/he are reading. But then the third section (i.e., Chapter Two) begins, "You have now read about thirty pages and you're becoming caught up in the story." Is that damned Calvino talking to me now or what? [checking the "this review contains spoilers" box definitely is the honorable thing to do ... i might as well just type up the whole book and call that "what i learned from this book"] And its 2nd paragraph starts, "Wait a minute! Look at the page number. Damn! From page 32 you've gone back to page 17!" (i actually checked) The Reader's novel has a publishing error (does mine?). So he goes to the bookstore to find out what went wrong (i'm not doing that; i'll read on), meets another reader (female, naturally) who had the same problem with the same book, and the two characters embark on a quest to find & read the rest of the book—the book that you are actually reading?!
Calvino twisted and turned this scenario so masterfully & so many more times that i felt imbalanced, akin to stepping off The Mad Tea Party at the carnival. Which would be blurbed as "Unpleasantly dizzying!" So scrap that simile. Comparing it with one of them vomit-inducing rides just ain't right.
I highly recommend this book, most especially to smarty pantsers and college lit professors & their students....more
After reading Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic, i needed to confirm that i prefer Douglas Adams’s sense of humor. Dirk Gently’s Holistic DetectivAfter reading Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic, i needed to confirm that i prefer Douglas Adams’s sense of humor. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is not only much funnier but it also shows Adams to be a far more skilled writer. (I probably shouldn’t be so judgy: maybe Pratchett’s later novels are better.)
So what’s DGHDA like then? It tickles your brains and your gut. Trust that the vagueness of the first several chapters will payoff. For fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide Series, Richard MacDuff is sort of our Arthur Dent and Dirk is Ford Prefectlike, but we don’t get to meet him til almost the midpoint. Don’t worry. That’s another of the many slow-burns. Remain patient. The plot also does a slow burn. Things happen but nothing seems connected. Many things seem completely senseless. These are what we in the private detecting business call “clues.” Pay attention for anything that strikes you as odd. It’ll relate to the denouement.
I met none of these requirements when i first read Dirk Gently and i have only some familiarity with the poems during this reread. But i rated it 5 stars? Well, when i first joined Goodreads, my memory must've selectively contained only how much Adams's sense of humor entertains me and i must’ve forgot how intellectually upsetting it was to romp through this comic novel only to discover that i didn't get the ending.
Upon rereading it, as an adult, i couldn’t live with all my questions. I had to find answers. Where better to look than the Internets for more careful, attentive, educated readers than i, right? I found at least one real good one and now i can enjoy it fully, with my brain and my gut....more
Obviously Marquez deserves all the praise for how good the book is, but i'm almost as impressed with Gregory Rabassa as a translator. Only on a very fObviously Marquez deserves all the praise for how good the book is, but i'm almost as impressed with Gregory Rabassa as a translator. Only on a very few occasions did i ever feel like i was reading something other than the original prose. And it could not have been easy to traverse the language barrier in Marquez's style.
I'm sad that it took me so many attempts to "get into" this story. Perhaps the dense prose and repetitions/similarities of names were too challenging the first several tries.
I'm happy that my friend loved this book enough that i felt compelled to give it yet another shot. I did not feel as visceral a reaction (literal chills) to the Revelation near the end as he did. This "lack" almost led me to rate it only 4 stars until i remembered how much enjoyment there is during the entire 450-page journey.
Read this book if you love great storytelling. Read this book if you love great prose. Read this book in SPANISH, for god's sake, if you're able.
Do not read this book if you are afraid to feel that you'll have to read it at least once more before you die, if not multiple times, in order to have a shot at grasping its Everythingness....more
[from May 1996, back when i tried to help the editors of What Do I Read Next?]
Main Characters Mark D'yeth (pronounced "death")—industrial diplomat from[from May 1996, back when i tried to help the editors of What Do I Read Next?]
Main Characters Mark D'yeth (pronounced "death")—industrial diplomat from the planet ? and our trusty narrator. Rat Korga—sole survivor of ? and Mark's "perfect erotic object to six decimal places" (no joke).
Plot Korga's decision to undergo "Radical Anxiety Termination" (i.e., become a "rat"); his employment as a slave laborer; his escape from slavery; the destruction of his planet; D'yeth's life as an industrial diplomat; his growing interest in Korga's destroyed planet and the ever-changing legends surrounding its destruction and its lone survivor; their introduction and romance; their life together as members of an intergalactic society dependent on instant, "free," and "unlimited" information access; the ever-changing mythos surrounding Korga and how that affects D'yeth's world as well as the relationship between the two men.
Setting Super far-flung future capable of linking a human mind directly to "the web" (and not just some piddly WORLDwide web—this knot of spider-shit covers GALAXIES!) as well as travelling between the stars—presumably without the effects of relativity. Most of the action takes place on Korga's home planet of ? and D'yeth's home planet of ?.
Remarks Like The Left Hand of Darkness, this book explores sexuality and gender issues as well as the language surrounding/manipulating them. Delany has designed a world in which the pronoun "he" is used ONLY for people/beings whom the speaker desires sexually (i.e., humans ain't the only sentient & sexually attractive species in the Milky Way).
This is certainly not a book full of family values and, as such, the libidinally challenged need not apply. Descriptions of sex abound: with insect-like aliens, multiple partners, members of the same sex, etc. (Sex is one of the "issues" Delany's most interested in.)
This book made me love Delany and claim him as one of my favorite authors. Anybody who has read and enjoyed his earlier stuff will probably like this at least as much—i'd be willing to bet my lunch money on that. This is a much more mature, fully-rounded story, as are the characters and the worlds they inhabit. All-around an excellent science fictional tome.
Follow-up notes: I think the name of Mark D'yeth's home planet is Velm because i'm positive that the indigenous sentient lifeforms—like giant praying mantises crossed with small dragons—are known as Evelmi. I'm absolutely certain that D'yethshome (where Mark & his family live) is in the Morgre geosector.
I verified that Mark D'yeth's home world is Velm, but the "city" (i don't think it's a city like we know them) is Morgre.
The world from which Rat Korga is the only survivor is Rhyonon. I am not certain, however, that he was born and raised on that planet.
I must re-read this book again one of these days....more
During the height of my Heinlein phase i looooooved this book. I've read it more than once and still enjoy the sincerity of its antiestablishmentarianDuring the height of my Heinlein phase i looooooved this book. I've read it more than once and still enjoy the sincerity of its antiestablishmentarianism though i suspect that if i read it again nowadays i'd be abashed by its quaintness and the familiarity of its ideas since they have been accepted into the majority of antiestablishment types since then. I'm not saying Heinlein came up with the jibes at Religion, just that they're more common in the 2000s than they were in the 1980s....more
#1 in "Rereading My Favorites" program. Not sure what #2 will be or if the next book i read will be new to me (maybe One Hundred Years of Solitude?).
I#1 in "Rereading My Favorites" program. Not sure what #2 will be or if the next book i read will be new to me (maybe One Hundred Years of Solitude?).
I'm guessing that this book introduced me to the "apatheism" idea. I used to think that i coined the term and refined the concept beyond what's in the novel (i.e., God doesn't care about us and there's nothing we can do to impress or please God).
I wasn't as moved by the theology as during the first read, but still a great story with a great payoff. It's a lot more hopeful than i expected, actually. Even though the "hope" seems to be truly empty, it is something positive for Malachi Constant, just as it's something positive for most humans to believe that they are (or at least they could be) going to paradise upon death....more
++++++++++++++++++ Here's my attempt ++++++++++++++++++ 11/4/2009 Please (pleas!)! I think everybody should go to the lighthouse. Take your time. Savor the journey. Why? Because Woolf shows us real life, reveals the beauty of the truth and the truth of the beauty of consciousness, humanity, existence. Little reasons like that. Not enough? How about because it might be the best book i've ever read. You're welcome to have a different opinion and/or experience, but that's the strongest recommendation i can make. I can't know how or why we won't have the same reaction to this book, but i wish that everybody else could find it as moving as i did—and, for all you Others, i can hope that you have found or will find at least one such book in your lives.
Who would expect that a little book like this—essentially "just" relating the experiences of several characters during a single day of an upper-class English family and their hangers-on at their summer home—could be so perfect? "Boooorrrrring!" our collective inner teenagers must instinctively reply to the description on the back of the book. But we middle-aged folks ought to be able to appreciate every f*cking thing about it.
I've talked before (e.g., re The Satanic Verses and The Third Policeman?) about "falling in love" with the writer when reading my favorite books. I must clarify that overly brief summation. I wish i had written the book; i regret that i cannot have written it; i dare to believe that it could have come from within me. It is exactly that Human, precisely that pure and essential. It contains and embodies and expresses the Truth, puts The Big T variety on display for the reader's consideration. (yes, i'm arrogant enough to wish such a thing could come from me)
Am i overselling it? I hope not.
More about this "falling in love." Repeatedly—almost continuously—Woolf's words seemed to reach the innermost workings of my mind, unhindered by other meanings, not needing translation from her personal symbols into my personal symbols. "Did i think that idea myself just now?" i kept wondering to myself, "or did she just think it for me ... 80 years ago? Was it already inside me exactly in that form? because it already existed? Has it always existed in this form, eternal, unchanging, immune to the flux and the chaos of the rest of existence?" Some people would call this a religious experience. They might speak of touching the Big M Mind of The Big G God.
But that's just my attempt to explain my experience of reading one of the best-of-the-best top shelf books.
I'm not overselling it; i'm actually flailing to describe my unique reading experience. Maybe i was in a manic phase and influenced by imbalanced brain chemistry. Maybe that high caused my current mental funk, drained me of endorphins for at least a week. Maybe typing this and semi-re-experiencing that high—at least recollecting its delight—can help restore balance. I dare not hope, but it is pleasant reliving the delight of reading.
Enough of the personal; enough of the vagueness.
Specific & not personal: Eudora Welty wrote in her Foreword, "[Woolf] has shown us the shape of the human spirit." (I don't think that's overselling it, either.)
The Ramsays. A real family, but you have my permission to disdain their well-offishness if you're inclined to a Marxist bent of literary criticism. And if the politico-economicism of the written word is your main thing, maybe this one's not for you. Mrs Ramsay, the old beauty who always gets her way. She knows everybody, everybody knows her, they all fear and revere her for what seem like the wrong reasons and she's so wonderfully engulfed (the way Woolf details it—i don't wish her overly-self-doubting+overly-self-centered psyche on anybody) by all their thoughts and opinions about her, and still she manages to be her own true self. The mama's boy, James, who has to figure out what it means to grow up. The stern but nutty dad. The young lovers.
The dinner scene! It's sacrilege to utter "Eddie Murphy's The Nutty Professor" in the same breath, but even that's probably a descendant of this book's fantastic dinner scene. Once you've read it, every dinner scene thereafter will have to struggle to escape the shadow of Woolf's. I can only think of one other dinner scene that rivals it for canonicity—and some claim that it's not fiction, but the holy, inspired word of the one true Big G God (the last supper of Jesus, if you need me to spell it out for ya).
Okay, so i'm not getting much more specific or less personal.
The first 60% of the book is about one day for "one family living in a summer house off the rocky coast of Scotland" (i'm so bad at being specific and/or not yammering about myself that i'm quoting the back cover of my edition and following it with a parenthetical about myself). During that day, Mrs Ramsay knits a long sock to be given to the lighthouse keeper's son. James, her youngest, plays at her feet, in her lap, wherever she is, all the while wanting to know if he'll be able to go to the lighthouse. Mom says tomorrow, maybe; definitely not, says Dad. Mr Ramsay walks around or sits around, thinking and talking and lamenting his lost prestige as a thinker/talker. He's trying to remain in love with his wife. Charles Tansley, a young scholar and protégé of Mr Ramsay, tries not to make it too obvious how superior he is to everybody else while simultaneously edifying them with his presence. Lily Briscoe, the "old maid" already at 30-something, observes and tries to paint. And she semi-flirts with Mr Bankes. Beautiful young Minta Doyle and Paul Rayley stroll the grounds like a couple on the brink of love, urged by Mrs Ramsay to BECOME a young couple. Family friend, colleague of Mr Ramsay, and old widower William Bankes strives not to make it obvious how much he prefers Mrs Ramsay's beauty to Mr Ramsay's overrated philosophical treatises while semi-flirting back at Ms Briscoe. Some other people, mostly other Ramsay children, too.
Then there's a brief interlude called "Time Passes," which—as is the way of life—kinda translates as, "People Die" / "Things Fall Apart."
The last quarter of the book is the day that all the survivors return to the cottage. Mr Ramsay and the youngest children finally go to the lighthouse. Lily watches to see if they make it while revisiting the painting and reminiscing about the last time she was here & doing pretty much the same exact thing.
There, i've told you the entire "plot" but it cannot be spoiled.
If i live long enough, i will read this book at least once more....more
I've just now finished rereading this, one of my favorite books of all time. The entire duration of reading, i couldn't avoid trying to picture how thI've just now finished rereading this, one of my favorite books of all time. The entire duration of reading, i couldn't avoid trying to picture how this could be transformed into a movie and how much fun it would be to play Grendel.
From the very beginning i loved his solipsistic, self-referential, simultaneous self-deprecation & -aggrandizement. If the role were crafted well enough ... Oscar! I doubt that i will ever get around to attempting to adapt the novel into a screenplay, but if there's anybody out there reading this who wants a challenge, i'd love to see what you can do with it.
It's a very inner monologue-y kind of novel, so getting that stuff into a visual medium like a movie would be difficult. But just think of the speeches you get to lift entirely from Gardner's use of the original Beowulf material! Think of the artistic opportunities in the climactic scene. Think of the devilish glee you could derive from the multiple scenes in which Grendel "interacts" with wildlife.
Okay ... don't; but i won't stop thinking about those things. They're the treasures (of being alive) that i'll mound in my subterranean cave and guard like a dragon. If you're lucky enough to find a book that moves you like this, i recommend rereading it at least once or twice....more
Still plenty of fun in many ways but the sex, violence and "heretical" notions have become my orthodoxies. There's no way for me to dislike a story wiStill plenty of fun in many ways but the sex, violence and "heretical" notions have become my orthodoxies. There's no way for me to dislike a story with such an awesome set-up, though: an alien race resurrects every Terran hominid who ever lived and spreads them out across a 20-million mile river.
Teenager first reader response = 5 stars for being wicked, bro. Adult rereading response = 4.25 stars for above average sci-fi....more
I really just wanted to know if i'd enjoy it as much the 2nd time. Can't say if i liked it as much the 2nd time, but i really enjoyed it. The reread wI really just wanted to know if i'd enjoy it as much the 2nd time. Can't say if i liked it as much the 2nd time, but i really enjoyed it. The reread was definitely worthwhile.
I remember the first time feeling deeply moved by it on an intellectual and artistic level. Not that it's likely to be on the syllabi of future college literature courses, but that it was a great work to justify the telling of stories. There is a REASON to tell this story, not just for the narrator but for the author and the reader and all of humanity. In that way, i think it's an important novel.
I noticed different things the second time through. More of the religion business, for example. I tried to read it with my interpretation/hypothesis in the forefront. It held up to the scrutiny but story-wise was no longer spectacular....more