You want to know how you can tell how good or bad a book is? By how willing I am to spoil it. If it's good, I'm going to do my best to keep as much ofYou want to know how you can tell how good or bad a book is? By how willing I am to spoil it. If it's good, I'm going to do my best to keep as much of the book to myself so that you can have full enjoyment of it but, if it's bad, I'm going to give you every reason not read it, which is going to include giving away anything about it that I think will help you to understand why you shouldn't read it. So, yes, there will be spoilers. And... now, I feel bad for even warning you about that because what if you decide to stop right here and not read the review? Seriously, you don't want to waste your time on this one, and I'm going to tell you why.
The first thing you should know, though, is that when an author says about a story, "It's not very good," you should probably believe him. Not that I knew he'd said that before I read it, nor would it have kept me from reading it since I'm doing this whole "complete works of Lovecraft" thing, but at least I would have known going in. Actually, I think Lovecraft was being generous when he said "not very good."
Mostly, the story is just boring. Mind-numbingly boring. And long. Especially for Lovecraft. And, since I'm reading this on my Kindle and it's part of a collection, I didn't know how long it was when I started it, and it kept going on and on and nothing was happening and I couldn't read it without my mind wandering or falling asleep which meant I had to go back and re-read parts of it, not that those parts mattered because none of it ultimately mattered.
More interesting, though, is the fact that Randolph Carter, the protagonist, is a character based more than a little on Lovecraft himself. You'd think that if you were writing a story with you in it that it would be a tad more exciting and interesting. Or that the character would do something. Anything. Other than get captured and have to be continually rescued, passively, by others. Including an army of cats because Carter had happened to have been nice to a cat at some point prior to needing to be rescued.
So the idea here is that Carter has had a dream of a place he calls the Sunset City -- Randolph Carter is an expert at dreaming, evidently -- but, each time he dreams of it, the dream gets snatched away from him. Carter decides it is the gods of Earth doing this -- they live in the land of dream -- and, so, he decides he is going to seek them out in their city of Kadath, a place where no man has ever been.
The bulk of Dream-Quest is Carter travelling through the land of dream and descriptions of the places he's seeing. There is no dialogue in the entire novella. That can be okay in a short story, but it's difficult in a novella. There is a monologue near the end and, when the character began speaking, I got excited for a moment, only to realize that the character was just going to be monologuing. It was sad.
One of the things Lovecraft says about the story is that he worried whether there was so much creepy stuff in it that it all blended together and made everything mundane. He was right to worry. Especially since Lovecraft relies so heavily on not actually describing his monsters. You can only tell me so many times that something is nightmare-inducing before I quit believing you. Especially if you tell me that same basic thing about every creature you come across. All of which is made worse when Lovecraft introduces you to some deadly horror that wants to eat you on one page but, then, becomes your ally a few pages later because you happened to learn a bit of its language.
You might be wondering at this point why I finished this story at all, which would be an entirely fair question. The easy answer is that I'm doing this whole "complete works of Lovecraft" thing, and you can hardly claim to have read the complete works if you dump stories here or there because they bore your eyeballs out (take that however you want to), but, also, I did genuinely become curious as to whether the story was going to go anywhere.
And it did. Sort of. I mean, Carter does eventually make it to Kadath. Very eventually. But that's the only interesting part of the story. See, when Carter FINALLY arrives in Kadath, the unknown city of the gods, to demand that they allow him into his Sunset City, he finds them... not there. The city is abandoned. And, as it turns out, as we find out through the monologue of the -- well, I suppose he's the antagonist, but I hesitate to go as far as to call him that -- "bad" guy, the gods loved Carter's dreamed city so much that they have taken it for themselves, abandoning their positions as gods of the Earth so that they can hang out in Carter's dream city. However, the one little interesting bit is not worth the whole story.
And there's not much after that. Carter escaping again through virtually no action of his own, though it is the only time he's responsible for his own safety. The payoff, which is very small, is definitely not worth the length of the story. And I haven't even mentioned how many times the word "Cyclopean" is used....more
It's no secret that I'm a fan of Briane Pagel's work. He has a contemplative style of writing that really works for me. Generally speaking, his storieIt's no secret that I'm a fan of Briane Pagel's work. He has a contemplative style of writing that really works for me. Generally speaking, his stories deal with some deeper question, some "what if?" that the story is addressing. So, like, in his excellent novel, Codes, the question is something like, "What if people were like computer "codes" that could be copied?" That's a good book, by the way, you should go read it.
Which is not to imply that most stories don't begin with some kind of "what if?" by the author, but Pagel's questions, or his answers, at least, tend to have a philosophical bent to them. So Codes is more about the effect on a person finding out he's a copy rather than a runaway adventure story about clones. I suppose it's the way he answers his questions that set him apart from most authors.
Which brings us to world war four, Pagel's most recent collection of short stories. I already tend to have a contentious relationship with short stories, and these are no different in that respect.
I think my main issue is that the two main stories (or what felt like to me to be the two main stories), including the title story, "worldwarfour," felt incomplete to me. This is actually a very common response I have to short stories, that they're too short. Like there should have been more there but, for whatever reason, the author just didn't finish it or fill it out enough or got bored. Something. That's how I felt with "worldwarfour" and "if i'd been in charge of einstein's brain."
And, with both of those stories, I couldn't decide what they were about, what the question was that Pagel was exploring. That said, I did really like what was there of "worldwarfour." It felt very much like a -- I'm going to guess 10-year-old (because either I've forgotten or it was never said) -- boy wandering in the woods while playing a game with his friends. Pagel captured a stream-of-consciousness that really feels right. It's just that the story has no real conclusion, and I was left wondering if, maybe, some of the story got left out of the book.
The other three stories are good, but I wouldn't say they are great. "zanzibar" both feels complete and incomplete at the same time. Like the necessary story is there, but it's not fleshed out enough. Except that it is enough to tell the story it's telling, just probably doesn't answer the questions it will generate. Sometimes, I find this to be a very good quality in storytelling, but I wasn't quite satisfied with it here. (But, then, that might just be related to my general dissatisfaction with the world in general, right now. It's hard to say.)
"7 pigs" and "pete & repeat went out in a boat," I both quite liked, but they're... oh, I'll say that they're less serious stories, which isn't quite right, because they're not, but they're handled in a less serious manner, I suppose.
So what I would say here is this: If you're a fan of Pagel's work, you should read this one. It doesn't require a huge time investment, and there is some good stuff in it. However, if you haven't read Pagel before, go get Codes; it's a better introduction to his work, and it's good stuff....more
Okay, before anyone says anything, I know "unnamable" is "misspelled." It is not misspelled because I am spelling it incorrectly; it is "misspelled" bOkay, before anyone says anything, I know "unnamable" is "misspelled." It is not misspelled because I am spelling it incorrectly; it is "misspelled" because that's how Lovecraft spelled it, so I can only assume that that was the correct spelling at the time. I'm assuming that because Lovecraft was rather a fascist of grammar, so it would be more than odd for him to have such a glaring mistake.
Now... Does anyone remember that old horror story (it was told by one of the boys in Dead Poets Society) about the person putting together the jigsaw puzzle only to have it reveal a picture of the person in question being murdered, an event which immediately happens upon completion of the puzzle? Yeah, you should just keep that in mind.
This story made me chuckle. It begins as a philosophical discussion between the narrator, who is an author, and his friend, who is a high school principal, about the author's foible of referring to things in his stories as "indescribable" or "unnamable." The principal holds that this is a "puerile device" of the author and is the reason, at least in part, that he has not become more successful. I have to imagine that Lovecraft is here reflecting upon actual comments to him as an author, because it's one of the things that has come to annoy me most about his writing, his constant retreat into saying that something is too horrifying to describe. The narrator, Randolph Carter, attempts to defend himself.
The two men are, of course, sitting on a tomb in a cemetery as they have this conversation. And, of course, something is going to go terribly wrong.
It was a clever set up. Lovecraft offers us pieces of the surroundings as he tells us about the two men talking, the dilapidated house not far away, the tombstone engulfed by a tree, the very tomb they are sitting on. Then, as Carter begins his defense about unnamable things, he relates to his friend a story, and we discover that they are in the very place where the story takes place. If you're paying attention (and, yes, I know I'm ruining this part), it will dawn on you as he tells the story to his friend, but, if not, at the end of the story, his friend says he would really like to see the house from the story. Carter replies that he can, or could have before it got too dark (because it is so dark at that point that the two men can't even see one another), because it's right over there.
And that is when things go to hell.
I liked this one a lot. That Lovecraft was willing to point out and, to a certain extent, even make fun of this failing of his as a writer, even in the midst of defending himself, is interesting to see. The story within the story becoming the setting for what happens in the story was also sufficiently subtle and interesting. I think this is possibly the most sophisticated of the stories I've read by him to date. Even if it does fall back to his favorite style of ending, which is, of course, the point....more
When I was a kid, we had squirrels in the attic. At night, sometimes, you could lie awake and listen to them roll pecans around -- we had two big pecaWhen I was a kid, we had squirrels in the attic. At night, sometimes, you could lie awake and listen to them roll pecans around -- we had two big pecan trees in our backyard -- and, whenever anyone needed to go up there -- which wasn't infrequent -- stray pecans could be found littering the attic floor. I actually wrote a short story, "The Squirrel Olympics," based on the whole thing, a short story that won some award or other and was published in an anthology in some local something-or-other. Hmm... I wonder if I still have a copy of that anywhere...
But I digress.
The problem with Lovecraft's story, "The Rats in the Walls," has nothing to do with lying awake and listening to rodents in your house, something I'm sure many people have experienced. The problem with the story is that it has a rather tremendous buildup that drags on and on, which is saying something for a story that's less than 8000 words, that, then, left me with the feeling of "that's all?" To say the least, I was unimpressed with where the story went.
Maybe if the story didn't follow so many of Lovecraft's normal conventions of storytelling, I would have ended up in a different place by the end of it, but it's stereotypically stereotypical Lovecraft. A man goes home to visit his ancestral home to find out there is some deep, dark family secret he knows nothing about. Of course, he is the last of his line, so he has no way of discovering the secret but, whatever it is, it has caused his family to be reviled in the place of their origin.
He sets about restoring his family home, which has fallen into ruin since his family abandoned it to escape their legacy in the new world. Once the restoration is complete and he begins living there, he begins to hear rats in the walls at night. The problem? The walls are stone. Solid stone.
But the cats in "castle" also hear the rats, and it drives them into a frenzy every night. Delapore is the only human who seems to hear the rats, though, so everyone else (the servants) are confounded by the actions of the cats.
Eventually, all of this leads to finding an underground cavern (spoiler alert!) where his family used to raise humans in pens for eating. In his horror at finding this out, Delapore immediately falls upon one of his companions and begins eating him, something Delapore can't remember after the fact.
At any rate, the reveal was not worth the buildup, and the sudden cannibalism by the main character was not really believable. Not that it was less believable than a lot of Lovecraft's contrivances, but the blackout suffered by the character made it something too removed to be believed. Plus, the rats scurrying in the walls just wasn't creepy enough to make the story horrifying. Not a Lovecraft story I would recommend....more
So... Power. What even is it? I think most people would say it's something about how able you are to tell other people what to do and have them do whaSo... Power. What even is it? I think most people would say it's something about how able you are to tell other people what to do and have them do what you're saying and, while Keltner would probably agree with that, he would broaden the definition to include how able you are to make a difference in the world around you. Which, you know, is fine. I can go with that.
What I can't go with is Keltner ascribing the results of his small group experiments to the broader context of society.
So, yes, Keltner does have data, a lot of it, done mostly in labs (and colleges are labs, of a sort), mostly with small groups of people, and, frequently, with groups of people who didn't know each other prior to the experiment. And I can't argue with his results. I see how he came to the conclusions he came to within the contexts of the experiments he ran, but -- and it's a big BUT -- he applies his conclusions to society in general, and, no matter how I look at it, I can't see that any of his ideas, at least the ones dealing with how we gain power, apply to society at large and across other cultures (which don't necessarily have the same views toward power that we do). It's rather like Freud in his generalizing to all people the conclusions he came to from working with a select few of mostly women seeking him for psychological treatment.
Which is too bad, actually, because they are interesting ideas and conclusions.
To put it simply, Keltner believes that we give power to people who promote the greater good of the group. And that's all fine and good, but he also says we remove that power from people when they stop exercising their power for the good of the group and start exercising it for the good of themselves. And, well, I don't know if he's looked around lately, but there are an awful lot of people in power, exercising it for their own good only, who seem to be just fine where they are and in no danger of losing their power anytime soon, which is the weakness of the book.
Power, according to Keltner, is its own downfall, because it is the having of power which causes us to quit looking outward toward ways we can create the greater good and start looking inward to how we can create greatness for ourselves. And it's not that he doesn't get this stuff right, the things that having power causes -- I'm sure he is quite correct -- but he says it's giving into these power impulses that, then, cause us to lose the power we've acquired. That's the part I'm not seeing, these active dynamics he's talking about happening on a societal scale.
He talks about how power is a constant give and take, and he does demonstrate that on a small scale to some extent, but he never even touches on how or why the people in power who are demonstrably out for themselves are able to escape all of these natural punishments and consequences he says we have. It undermines his whole premise. The one thing he mentions that's kind of his out is that he says personal charisma is one of the biggest influencers on how we gain power, which, also undermines his theory of it having to do with contributing to the greater good, and he never talks about how it enables people to retain power after they've begun to abuse it.
The one part of the book he gets right, completely right -- and he gets it right because he deals with this aspect on a societal level -- is the section dealing with the effects of powerlessness on people. Having no power causes stress which leads to a further lack of ability to contribute to society (basically, the definition of power itself, according to Keltner) and poor health. He does nothing, however, to address the issue other than to say that these people need to be empowered.
I'm not going to say that the book doesn't contain some interesting ideas; it does. I will say that these ideas weren't ready to be a book, though. Even if he's onto something. And he might be onto something. But there's no way to apply what he says here to the world at large and no way to apply the principles he's come up with other than to say, "Be excellent to each other." Which, you know, is a great thing to say and something I agree with wholeheartedly, but he needs to offer some practical applications if he wants to write a book about it. Simply saying, "Be empathetic," isn't enough....more
My wife thought the title of this book was hilarious as soon as she saw me reading it. That says a lot right there, which you would know if you knew mMy wife thought the title of this book was hilarious as soon as she saw me reading it. That says a lot right there, which you would know if you knew my wife.
But let me tell you a story: My daughter plays softball. She's really good. Recently, there was a, let's call it a disagreement, between myself and her head coach over, let's call it his mistreatment, of my daughter during a tournament. During the, let's call it a discussion, in an effort to insult me, he said, rather vehemently, "Why don't you just go read a book!" In fact, he shouted that at me twice, as if that somehow afforded him a victory in said "discussion." This amuses me because he intended this as some kind of insult. I, in fact, was holding a book at the time. I'm sure, though, that it was an "insult" because he has never read a book. Nor would he. I mean, you don't yell, "Why don't you just go read a book," at someone as a disparagement if you place any value in reading. He obviously does not. Which explains a few things...
How does that relate? Well, there are a couple of jocks who get into a fight in Tuck Watley over the use of the word "nerd." You might think this is over the top, but, I assure you, it is not. I probably found that bit more funny than I should have, but it cracked me up. It's funny because it's true.
That said, this is not my favorite work by Pedas and Meyers, but it's very good. Funny enough for some actual laugh out loud moments. Just the premise, which I'm not going to say because it's kind of spoilery, thought it's right there in the title to some extent, is funny enough to warrant the book.
As always with Pedas and Meyers, the book is filled with kooky, stereotype characters. Of course, it is that they are stereotypes that make them so funny. I think in this one my favorite is the teenage girl who dresses and acts as if she's 50 years older. Although the group of scientists are pretty close. And the taco guy. Yeah, there's a lot of funny in the book.
If you're looking for serious, literary achievements, though, you should go somewhere else. This book is not that. However, Pedas and Meyers have a rather eclectic list of works, so you can probably find something you'd like from among their other offerings, either solo or duo projects. But, if you like comedy and if you think there are aspects of our secret government organizations that are ridiculous, this is a book you should pick up....more
This is by far the longest piece by Lovecraft that I've read so far. Not because I'm avoiding his longer works but because, after reading several of hThis is by far the longest piece by Lovecraft that I've read so far. Not because I'm avoiding his longer works but because, after reading several of his short stories, I decided to read his works in the order in which he wrote them. I don't know; I guess I just wanted to see the evolution of his writing.
It is in some ways disingenuous to say that this is a longer work. It is in actuality six short stories about the same two characters, Herbert West and his narrator assistant. Each story begins with a somewhat distracting recap of events which is meant to string the events of each episode together into a coherent whole. This is only partially successful as there is no need to have read any of the stories to be able to read any of the other stories except for the last one, "The Tomb-Legions," which requires that you have read all of the other pieces.
I have to say that this... I don't know, let's call it an experiment... was unsuccessful. Lovecraft called the story a parody of Frankenstein, but I don't think it succeeds even at that. It's too clumsy, both copying the novel and being unrelated to it at the same time. And, in the end, Lovecraft pulls in some of his unexplainable otherworldly esoterica to draw the story to an unsatisfying conclusion which is so unrelated to anything in Frankenstein that it manages to undermine any claim that this is a parody. It turns it into a poor attempt at stealing this particular story idea, that of bringing the dead back to life.
Lovecraft has some stylistic choices which specifically don't work in Herbert West: 1. Lovecraft is a "teller," not a "show-er." This robs his stories of immediacy and works against them being true horror. They might leave you feeling creepy, but it's difficult to ever feel any real fear for the characters since everything is told from some far removed point to the actual action. 2. He almost never uses dialogue, resorting, instead, to just telling us what was talked about. This follows point 1. 3. He cheats on descriptions (CONSTANTLY!) by telling us it's too unspeakable for words. Sorry, as a pattern (which it is), that's just deficient writing skills. Every once in a while, that can work to heighten just how horrible something is, but, when that's your go-to descriptive phrase, it shows that you just can't come up with anything.
The above points don't cause problems in any individual short story, but they cause longer works to drag and become uninteresting. Thankfully, even as a longer work, Herbert West wasn't all that long, and I was able to finish it, but I was glad when I did. I kept thinking as I was reading, "Geez! Just get to the point!" Unfortunately, the point wasn't really worth getting to. ...more
Generally speaking, post-apocalyptic books aren't my thing. Post-apocalyptic stories tend to revolve around one thing: how horrible everything is afteGenerally speaking, post-apocalyptic books aren't my thing. Post-apocalyptic stories tend to revolve around one thing: how horrible everything is after the apocalypse. This book is not like that. Refreshingly so.
In fact, I didn't know I was reading something post-apocalyptic at first. Yes, that means I didn't know what the book was about. My wife told me I should read it, and I did, and I did that without reading the back cover blurb or anything. Yeah, I trust my wife that much. Her reading standards are much higher than mine, and mine are already pretty darn high. Basically, if she tells me I'm going to like something, I can believe that that is true.
So, yeah, I started reading it without knowing it was post-apocalyptic, so when I got to the part of the story that revealed it was a future society, not just some alternate or fantasy society, it was really an "oh, wow" moment. And, yes, I do realize I ruined that for any of you who might decide to pick the book up, but, really, how many of you were actually not going to read the back cover? That's what I thought, so get off my case. It's right there on the back, so I'm not spoiling anything!
I'm going to make a comparison, now. Everyone loves Ender's Game because they were caught off guard by the ending. Everyone is always, "Oh, wow! I didn't see that coming!" But not me. Not only did I figure out what was going on before the reveal, I knew what was going on almost as soon as it started happening. I liked the book, but there was nothing surprising about the ending to me, and, what's more, at the time I read it, I didn't know the ending was supposed to be a twist. It just seemed the natural outcome to me. I was surprised to find out that other people were surprised by the ending.
The Gate To Women's Country was more like The Sixth Sense in that regard for me. All of the clues as to what is actually going on in that movie are right there in the movie, but you don't see them for what they are. It makes the movie even more brilliant, because you can go back and watch it again and see how all the pieces are laid out and see how you just missed putting them together because you were too caught up in the story. It's rather like missing the forest for the trees.
There is a thing going on in The Gate To Women's Country that's rather brilliant, but what makes it more brilliant is that Tepper lays it all out in front of you -- she basically tells you what's happening -- but you don't see it. I did manage to work it out before the big reveal in the book, but it was rather late, only a few chapters before the reveal, and a definite "oh my God!" moment.
Considering the secret at the center of the novel, a case could be made that this is a dystopian novel. [When I say that, I mean it in the context of the original definition of the word, not the warped view we have of it currently. So, for your cultural edification: The current popular view of "dystopian" amounts to the same as "anti-utopian" or "the opposite of utopian" (which is anything that is not an actual utopian society (so any society currently on Earth (yes, we are all dystopian))). The actual definition of a dystopian society is a society that looks as if it's utopian but has something wrong or flawed at its core. An example would be the society in Brave New World which looks and acts like a utopia except that the population is largely controlled through the use of drugs.] I suppose that depends upon which side of the morally ambiguous question you fall. It's an interesting question, but not one I can go into without spoiling the entire book. But, trust me, I'd love to go into it.
It's a good book. A very good book. It's well written and will probably keep you wondering what it's actually about for quite a while. In a good way. Because you can probably pick up on it not being about what it appears to be about fairly early on. The characters are really good, too, and many of them are not exactly who they appear to be, too, but also in a good way, in the way of getting to know someone, say, away from work when you have only ever known them as a work acquaintance.
The only warning I would give is that the book has a definite feminist slant and, if you can't go in for that, you should probably skip the book; it will probably make you mad. And that, more than anything, will be quite revelatory. If the book makes you mad, it's probably about you....more
**spoiler alert** "The Quest of Iranon" is the most interesting of the Lovecraft stories I've read so far (I'm somewhere in the two dozen range). I'm**spoiler alert** "The Quest of Iranon" is the most interesting of the Lovecraft stories I've read so far (I'm somewhere in the two dozen range). I'm not saying it's the best, but it's the only one that has give me a "huh, that was interesting" reaction. [Ignore the image. This is in no way a horror story.]
This will be full of spoilers and, actually, I'm going to ruin the ending, so you should go read it before going on with my review.
To put it simply, Iranon is a dreamer. He's a singer of songs and a teller of stories. And he's on a quest for his homeland, a land he remembers from his infancy, a land in which he was a prince. But he was for whatever reason left to be raised by another family, and he now seeks home.
During his journey, he acquires a travelling companion, a youth who wants to move on to a better place than where he lives, another dreamer, though not one who dreams as deeply as Iranon. They travel together for years, until the youth passes Iranon by in age and, eventually, dies, all the while Iranon ages not a day. There's no explanation as to why Iranon doesn't age, so it's to be assumed that it is because he is of a people of another place, a superior people.
This is the bit that's interesting to me (and here comes the real spoiler), because, at the end, Iranon, still on his quest, stays with an old man, an old man with whom it turns out he was friends with during his childhood. The old man only has distant memories of the boy, Iranon, who used to tell fantastic tales, tales about being a prince from a far off land, but tales that couldn't be true because he and everyone had known Iranon since birth,
Hearing the truth deprives Iranon of his eternal youth, and he becomes the old man that he really ought to be. The general interpretation of this is that Iranon had stayed eternally youthful because he was a dreamer, and that it is the death of his dream that causes him to grow old. I suppose this is a logical interpretation and it is what it presented in the story.
However, if you look deeper, it's possible to see that Iranon was only youthful in his own eyes. He was, for a while, a famous and popular entertainer in the city Oonai, but, eventually, the people turn to a new group of entertainers. It is pointed out in the story that these are young people. Iranon, no longer feeling appreciated, leaves the city. But, maybe, he's just grown old and he's the only one who doesn't see it. It's an interesting question....more
Sometimes, there are those books that you really just expect to love. Or, at least, to like a lot. They have all the things that you generally like inSometimes, there are those books that you really just expect to love. Or, at least, to like a lot. They have all the things that you generally like in books. Or, at least, for that type of book. By all accounts, I should have really liked A Fire Upon the Deep, but it never really took off for me. You could say that it got stuck in the slow zone, especially considering it took me something like six months to read.
It's not that I hated the book, but it never achieved likability. It was like one of those foods you're willing to eat to be polite but, really, you'd just rather not. Like asparagus.
The first issue was the characters. Not that they were the first issue, exactly, but you can forgive a lot of stupid stuff in books (or on TV or whatever) if the characters are good. Good meaning that you can relate to them in some way and empathize with their situation. Or negatively empathize (as with an antagonist). But this book had zero characters with whom I could connect, so I never came to care about what happened to any of them. The only character I came even close to liking got killed not long after he was introduced.
And it was difficult to actually dislike the "villain," since it amounted to no more than a program.
So not only did I not have anyone to root for, I also didn't have anyone to root against, so there was nothing really compelling within the story to keep me wanting to read it.
Some would say the book is about the world building, which is extensive, but I didn't find that appealing, either. There were too many things that I found, well, just dumb. Like the galaxy having "zones." Not zones like you'd have on a map, but zones like the layers of a rain forest: floor, understory, canopy, emergent. The problem with these zones in the book (unthinking depths, slow, beyond, transcend) is that they were represented somewhat like evolutionary stages. Earth is in the slow zone but, once man had evolved enough, he moved up to the beyond, except it's the technology that's evolving, not man.
The problem with all of that is that the technology cannot actually physically exist (work) in an incorrect zone. Imagine it like this: You grow up in a kind of rundown neighborhood and all you have is a bike, but you work hard and save and, eventually, move to a better neighborhood and buy a house and a car. Let's say that one day you want to visit your old home, so you decide to drive by and see it just for the sake of nostalgia. The only problem is that when your car enters the old neighborhood, it quits working. It just shuts off. You could still put it in neutral and push it around the streets, but that would take a very long time and be a lot of hard work. Or you could build a bicycle mechanism into your car that you could switch to when your engine cut off.
I don't find this kind of thing fascinating to ponder, not in any way. It's a ridiculous approach to physics and the universe.
And not to spoil the ending, and I'm not actually going to tell you what happens, but you shouldn't read the next bit if you want to remain in the unawares:
It has a totally deus ex machina ending. That's not a problem in-and-of itself, because you know from the beginning, basically, that that's what they're looking for. However, when it happens, it goes all in and offers absolutely no explanation. The ending just happens. They show up and everything that is going to happen happens without them doing anything other than being there. And that, also, doesn't quite make sense, but there is no explanation offered. It was unsatisfying, to say the least.
And that was after the six-month slog to read it.
Probably, I will go ahead and read the next one, A Deepness in the Sky, but that's because I already have it. If I didn't, I wouldn't bother. And when I say I'm going to read it, I only mean that I'm going to start it. If it's not better, I'm not going to force myself through it like I did this one....more
"The Terrible Old Man" might be the most normal of Lovecraft's stories, the most "normal" one I've read, anyway. Which is not to say that it's not a h"The Terrible Old Man" might be the most normal of Lovecraft's stories, the most "normal" one I've read, anyway. Which is not to say that it's not a horror story, but it's not a weird, tentacled monster horror story.
This is going to be all spoilery, by the way, because the short story is quite short, and there's no way to talk about what I want to talk about without giving it away. But you should still read it because 1. it's short, and 2. it's that good.
I'm not saying that Lovecraft invented this type of story, but this is certainly the earliest example that I know I've read of this type, the type where the perpetrators become the victims.
There's an old man, an ex-sea captain, who lives alone and is rumored to have vast stores of treasures. Or something. No one really knows because the old guy keeps to himself and everyone is afraid of him. But, then, three new guys arrive into town, hear about the guy, and decide that they will rob the old man. They'll torture the location of the hidden treasure out of him if they have to.
Except one of the guys, the driver, isn't too keen on the torture part, so he tells his two buddies to go easy on the old guy. And that's the last he sees of them as they head to the house and he waits in the car. Not long after, he hears screams coming from inside the house and assumes it's the old guy... until he finds the old guy staring at him from the gate with a wicked grin on his face.
Seriously, go read it.
Now, one of the things I read about this story is that it's a prime example of Lovecraft's racism... wait! What? I'm sorry; I just don't see it. Yes, the men from out of town are "foreigners" in that they are not from the small town where everyone knows about the terrible old man. You have to outsiders come in who don't know any better. I think you have to read awfully deep between the lines to turn this into some kind of warning to outsiders to stay out.
Or maybe I just don't know enough about Lovecraft. However, not knowing more than I do, I say this is a really great read....more
As I think I've mentioned before, Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite (living) authors. He's one of the few authors whose books I will just pick upAs I think I've mentioned before, Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite (living) authors. He's one of the few authors whose books I will just pick up automatically when they're released. The problem with Lawhead, though, is that he frequesntly has a problem with endings, especially endings of series. The Fatal Tree proves to be one of those ending failures, and it's unfortunate that such a strong story had to end with a face plant.
The first problem with the book is, as it turns out, the conflict is "cosmic" in nature. As revealed at the end of the previous book, The Shadow Lamp, the end of the universe is coming. As I mentioned in my review of The Shadow Lamp, this is an issue because it changes the focus of the series. We believe during the first three books and most of the way through the fourth that conflict is with Burleigh, but, suddenly, no, although Burleigh is a bad guy, he is not the bad guy. He is not the antagonist.
In fact, there is no real antagonist, not at that point, just an event that previously happened that, now, needs to be prevented. Remember the part in one of my previous reviews where I said this isn't a time travel story? Well, it's still not, but they still have to figure out a way to prevent something from happening that already happened. Except they don't really know that.
Actually, the major issue with this book is that the catastrophic event that was only discovered as a possibility at the end of book four is just suddenly happening. It's like if you were making tea: You put your water in your tea kettle, you turn on the burner on the stove, you set the kettle on the burner... You expect to need to have to wait for the water to heat up before you can make your tea, right? But not in this book. Instead, as soon as you set the kettle down, not only does the water start to boil, it explodes into steam. The sudden shift from trying to find the skin map to the universe could be in danger to THE UNIVERSE IS IMPLODING RIGHT NOW! was unenjoyable to say the least.
And, then, what do you do about the universe imploding? Absolutely nothing, that's what. It's kind of like standing in front of a tsunami and trying to stop it by holding up your hands. But Kit and his gang (because Kit has somehow become the leader) decide they're going to stop it. So they spend a lot of time talking about it and doing not much and never figure anything out.
The other issue, from a plot stand point, is the tree. The fatal tree. The fatal tree that, really, has nothing to do with anything. It's just there. There's a whole book, basically, devoted to this tree, and it doesn't really mean anything or have to do with anything. That was annoying.
Then there's Burleigh...
So, look, Lawhead writes Christian-themed books. I get that. As a Christian, I appreciate his general subtle application of Christianity into his stories. But not this time. Because Burleigh, as it turns out, isn't really our bad guy, he needs to have a conversion experience, which would be fine, except... Except that Lawhead spends chapters and chapters dealing with Burleigh and his descent into self-loathing so that he can finally come to understand that he's powerless on his own and does, yes, need God. This is all handled more like someone with an addiction needing to hit bottom to know that he needs help rather than someone coming to understand that it's grace that is needed. Also, it goes on way too long. In detail. It's tiring.
Basically, I was very dissatisfied with the book and how it ended the series. Too many things happen for no real reason other than that the author needed them to happen so he made them happen. There's no explanation or rational or anything. I'm sorry, but you don't write a whole book about a tree that just happened to be there and has no other purpose than that it happened to be there. Also, you don't have the "heroes" essentially save the universe on accident, even if that's what they wanted to do. I can't say the series, overall, was a waste of time (because books two, three and four were really very good), but I might have been more satisfied if I had never read this one and just wondered what happened....more
I'm going to start by pointing out the obvious: Don Quixote is a long book. My copy, which is in small print, has more than 1000 pages. ThisPart One:
I'm going to start by pointing out the obvious: Don Quixote is a long book. My copy, which is in small print, has more than 1000 pages. This is the main reason why it's taken me so long to read it. Not that I'm daunted by long books, but I would look at it and look at my other books and think that I could read so many other books in the same time it took to read Don Quixote, and that's what I would do. [I had the same problem when I was a kid collecting Star Wars toys. There would be some big item I wanted, like the Millennium Falcon or an AT-AT, that I would save up money to get but, when I got to the store, I would look at that one thing and realize how many action figures I could buy with the same money and end up buying the action figures.] I'm sorry I waited so long to read it.
Don Quixote is a great book full of laugh out loud moments. Now, understand, this is a book that was written 400 years ago. What this tells me, which is something I already knew but this serves as confirmation, is people don't really change all that much. I mean, you have everything here, from Quixote and Sancho puking in each other's faces to political satire to ripping on other authors' popularity despite poor quality writing to statements about the human condition. The book is compelling and a surprisingly fast read. At least it was for me.
Just the basics in case you don't know them: Quixote (not his real name) is a minor Spanish noble in love with chivalry and everything to do with it, so much so that he decides to become a knight. Let me be clear about this: He just decides to become a knight. This would be like just deciding to become Batman. You go out and buy a Batman costume and a bunch of gadgets and start stalking the streets in hopes of finding bad guys to beat up. Essentially, this is what Quixote does. He puts on some armor, gets his nag of a horse, and hits the trails looking for bad guys to defeat in honorable combat. Needless to say, hi-jinks ensue. And a little bit of crazy. Okay, a lot of crazy.
The crazy is best summed up in the whole tilting-at-windmills scene but only because, if there's anything people know about Don Quixote, it's the bit where he tries to joust with the windmills. He thinks they're giants. This is far from the best or funniest scene in the book; people know about it because it happens early. It's like how everyone knows about the Lilliputians from Gulliver's Travels even though the first section, the section in Lilliput, is the least of that book.
Quixote's friends don't like what he's doing and decide that he's gone crazy and needs to be cured. Their method of curing him is to burn all of his books. Books, see, are bad examples. At least, the books about chivalry that Quixote loves are bad examples, so they decide to remove the source of his illness by burning the books. Of course, before they burn them, they go through them and keep for themselves all of the valuable ones or the ones they just happen to like. It's really pretty horrible.
It's also Cervantes method of dismissing authors he thought were hacks (for lack of a better word) and uplifting authors he admired. Including, or maybe especially, contemporaries.
Look, there's a reason that this book is still considered one of the greatest novels ever written. I wish I hadn't waited so long to get around to it. It's well worth the time even if it does look long.
A thing most people don't realize is that Don Quixote is actually two books written a decade apart. I know I didn't know before I picked up the book and did some background research on it. That's always a good thing, by the way. To understand the second book, in fact, you really need to understand the context of when and why Cervantes wrote it. Yes, there will be some spoilers (but not too many but one that reveals the end of the book).
Cervantes purposefully left the end of the first book open for a sequel, to put it in today's terms. Not the he necessarily intended to write one, but he wanted to be able to write more about Quixote if he wanted to. And he might have if the first book hadn't become the huge success that it became. "What?" you say, "That doesn't make sense." But it did.
See, Don Quixote became the most read book in the world at the time. Cervantes became a household name. He was world famous. It sounds great, right? It was... except for the part where he didn't receive a dime for his work. There was nothing to stop people from just printing his work on their own, no laws or anything protecting creators or copyrights or anything, and that's what people did. All over the world. So, although Quixote was a worldwide bestseller, Cervantes stayed penniless (which is how he died). I'm pretty sure that eroded his desire to actually go back and revisit Don Quixote and Sancho.
Until someone published a fake sequel. That pissed Cervantes off and prompted him to get to work on the second book. And here's why that's important: There are specific portions of the second book that are there to, basically, debunk the fake sequel. And, um, then Cervantes kills Quixote off at the end of the book so that no one else could write anymore fake Quixote stories. No better way to take care of that issue, I suppose.
As for the book itself, in many ways it's better than the first book, but it also suffers a little from addressing the audience about the fake sequel. It breaks the narrative. It's also amusing in sections, like when Quixote finds out that he supposedly goes somewhere in the fake book, so he completely avoids that place so as not to be confused with the fake Don Quixote.
The second book contains a bit more satire than the first and makes many of its points through making fun of Quixote and Panza. Sancho, though, frequently rises above the jokes being played on him, and the portion dealing with him as the governor of his "island" are some of the best in both books.
At any rate, you're not going to find the two books published separately, and it's unlikely that you'll want to stop reading at the end of book one if you get to the end of book one. So I'll say it again: Don Quixote is well worth reading, even 400 years after its original publication. Cervantes was a great writer. It's too bad he didn't write other novels. He did write some plays early in his life, and I might have to look into some of those. Don't let the length daunt you. Just dive in....more
Generally speaking, I would say that the amount of description an author uses in a book is up to the author. Generally. It just depends upon how muchGenerally speaking, I would say that the amount of description an author uses in a book is up to the author. Generally. It just depends upon how much detail the author wants the reader to have to supply and how important those details are to the story.
For instance, The House on the Corner has a lot of detail in the descriptions about the places, especially about the house, and time period because those things are important to the story. Shadow Spinner has less detail, almost none, about places, like Tib's house, and time period because I wanted the reader to be able to fill in those details based upon his/her personal knowledge so that Spinner would feel like it was happening anywhere and anywhen.
Which brings me to my point: There are some genres that require heavy description, and anything historical falls into that. It's the detailed description in historical fiction that allows the reader to enter into some other time period. Moonless fails in every way to provide any kind of description that allows the reader to enter... whatever time period it's supposed to be set in. "Jane Eyre" is not a time period but the closest the author gets us to establishing an era for us, and that's a phrase in the product description. All we get from the book itself is the vague sense of a big house and a horse and carriage.
In fact, there is so little description that when the gathering of people -- and we have no idea who's involved in this gathering, just the vague sense of a crowd -- gather for the evening's entertainment, it has the feel of a school assembly, including teenagers flicking spitballs at each other. I'm pretty sure this is not the atmosphere the author wanted to evoke.
Then, there's the issue of the girl, herself. All we get about her is that she's not pretty. There is some indication that she's awkward or ungainly or something, but all we know is that she considers herself ugly. Except, when she goes to her room for the night, she looks in the mirror and, suddenly, she's beautiful. Personally, if my appearance changed so drastically during a... whatever kind of performance it was... I would wonder what was going on, but the protagonist pretty much just takes it as, "Huh. I'm beautiful, now."
And, of course, there is insta-love, because what historical, paranormal romance and go without insta-love? Even when the protagonist believes the object of her affection is a murderer and, possibly, wants to murder her. Now, let me tell you, that is a recipe for attraction.
But, you know, even with all of that, I was willing to keep reading. Right up until the love interest/antagonist(?) showed up in her bedroom to watch her sleep. Wait. What? What book are we in? Yeah, that's when I was done. Finished. Through. Whatever. I didn't have time for Twilight, and I don't have time for some cheap Twilight knockoff, either.
So here's the part where I'm honest: I didn't finish reading this book. I gave it my best effort, but I couldn't do it. Maybe it gets better, but it would have to get a lot better, magnitudes better, to make it worth struggling through....more