The Blade Itself is a promising fantasy epic torpedoed by serious flaws. It owes a lot to A Song of Ice and Fire's gritty realism—a fact which Abercro...moreThe Blade Itself is a promising fantasy epic torpedoed by serious flaws. It owes a lot to A Song of Ice and Fire's gritty realism—a fact which Abercrombie himself readily acknowledges—but alas, it proves that it is not so much the formula as George R.R. Martin's ability as a writer that made Game of Thrones such an smashing success.
The Blade Itself follows three POV characters: Logen "Ninfingers," a smart barbarian renegade; Jezal, a young military officer training for an important fencing tournament; and Sand dan Glokta, a former soldier turned torturer. Out of the three, Glokta was by far the most interesting. I loved the depiction of Logen, but he spends a lot of the novel not really knowing what he's doing or why; and Jezal was just a whiny character whose motivation beyond lusting after his friend's sister remained a mystery to me.
Glokta is at once the most controversial and interesting of the characters. He was an officer in the army who fell into the hands of the enemy and emerged a broken man. He is crippled by the torture he endured, a fact which the book hammers home every turn. This, in itself, is a novelty of the fantasy genre, although it's easy to see the "big shadow" cast by a certain Tyrion all the way to the Union.
The Blade Itself, being a gritty, realistic fantasy, has plenty of violence, of course. Truth be told, though, I found it boring and repetitive. Most of the violence in the book concerns Glokta, who, as a torturer, tortures a lot of people while simultaneously detailing the violence that was made to him. There isn't a lot of psychological finesse to it; he pulls fingernails and threatens irreparable bodily harm to his victims, who are more or less innocent. There is no great controversy here, no dark and twisted psychological exploration. Just people suffering at the hands of the inquisitor and his admittedly cool lieutenants.
What ultimately led me to abandon this book halfway through (despite having made it a whopping 300 pages in) is twofold. First, the prose isn't all that good. Character motivations and reactions are pretty on the nose. Jezal's love story, rather than redeem him, just gives him one more layer of clichéd characterization to contend with. Second, the characters, despite evolving in a "realistic" fantasy world, were pretty black and white. You'll find none of the shades of gray that make, say, Tywin Lannister so compelling. The king is a fat, useless slob to the end; the barbarian ruler is ruthless, proud, and strong. There's some nuance to Logen, but he's an island of complexity in a sea of sameness.
And so, after 300 pages, I just found myself not caring very much for any of these characters. I'm sure they face morally ambiguous situations and resolve them in surprisingly pragmatic ways... But as tantalizing as this might sound, I'm just gonna move on to better-written books with more tantalizing characterization.(less)
It pains me to do this, but I give up. Castro is an amazing short story author, but I just can't get through this book. I keep finding other things to...moreIt pains me to do this, but I give up. Castro is an amazing short story author, but I just can't get through this book. I keep finding other things to do instead of reading it, such as napping or browsing the web. It just won't grab my attention however hard I try.
Maybe the problem is the main character, Andrea Cort. I appreciate that she's a tormented, strong-headed woman, and goodness knows we need them in SF. She's just not very interesting. She's bitter and antisocial, but there's nothing awe-inspiring or compelling in what she does. For the first hundred pages or so, she basically wanders around and asks boring people about... stuff.
The setting of One One One is also interesting, but nowhere near enough to justify an entire novel. It feels like a great setting for a short story, but I'm just not fascinated about it enough to want to learn everything.
So. I tried, I really did. Andrea Cort just isn't for me. You might want to pick up this book and judge by yourself, though.(less)
One memorable review of Artemis Fowl called it "Die Hard with faeries," and hilariously enough, that description is spot-on. The novel is action-packe...moreOne memorable review of Artemis Fowl called it "Die Hard with faeries," and hilariously enough, that description is spot-on. The novel is action-packed and features a truly original and compelling antihero, but unfortunately, its weaknesses end up sapping most of its potential.
Artemis Fowl is a 12 year-old boy genius and evil mastermind, and he's dead set on kidnapping a faerie to rebuild his family fortune. What an amazing idea that is! No wonder this book was a hit. It's hard not to root for a boy genius with a taste for crime against the supernatural. His manservant, Butler, a mountain of a man who knows his ways around guns and fistfights, adds to the irresistible tableau.
Unfortunately, this is where the novel loses steam. Because Artemis Fowl is fundamentally a villain, Mr. Colfer felt the need to spend way too much time getting to know his opposition in the faerie world. Whereas Artemis and Butler were vibrant and interesting, the faerie world was shoddily built and unconvincing. The faerie characters are basic police thriller tropes: the brave if rebellious foot soldier, the scenery-chewing grumpy boss, the technobabble-spewing geek. The fact that they're faeries doesn't add much originality to their characters.
The way Colfer decided to build his faerie universe left me scratching my head. His faeries harbor a deep hatred for humanity, calling us "Mud People" and spewing insult after insult at the way we destroy the environment. Look, I'm all for a little environmental message, but these guys really hammer it in. The way they throw racial epithets at humans just made me uncomfortable after a while. Besides, there's little in faerie society that hints at them doing things much differently from us: they have guns, coppers and criminals, crooked cops with political ambitions, and even, believe it or not, neutron-bomb-like, life-exterminating radioactive bombs. So much for nature when your standard procedures call for the extermination of all life.
The action itself was fun and fast-paced, but it was mired by a few odd, ad hoc decisions. At times Colfer made rules as he went along for the convenience of the plot. For instance, (view spoiler)[the faeries deploy the time freeze over Fowl Manor, but they have no trouble communicating back and forth or entering and leaving, completely undermining the very concept of stopping time. (hide spoiler)] This was particularly frustrating at the end, (view spoiler)[when the faerie laws just come together in a way that means they'll leave Fowl alone when they would have no reason to do so. (hide spoiler)]
All in all, I wish we had seen more Artemis Fowl and Butler, and less faeries besides Holly and Mulch. I wouldn't call this book an instant classic, and it's definitely not Harry Potter caliber. But it's good, rollicking fun nevertheless, and Artemis Fowl is one of the most interesting antiheroes I've seen in quite a while.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
As with all Robert Charles Wilson novels, this one features a human story wrapped around a mind-boggling SF concept. The central idea is as fantastic...moreAs with all Robert Charles Wilson novels, this one features a human story wrapped around a mind-boggling SF concept. The central idea is as fantastic as they come, but the human story lacks depth and feels by the numbers. The result is a below-average Wilson novel, which means it's still leagues ahead of the average SF book.
The central SF element is part alien invasion, part alternate history. In Burning Paradise's modern-day Earth, there has been no major military conflict after World War Two due to the presence of an alien parasite surrounding the Earth and altering our radio waves to pacify us. Why this "hypercolony" behaves this way is unclear, but a secret society of academics is caught in the crossfire when they start to learn too much.
The idea of a hypercolony, and the novel's presentation of its utterly alien mind--or lack thereof--was riveting. It reminded me of the Chinese box explanation in Blindsight, and it made for an impossibly creepy and dangerous foe for the protagonists. I couldn't get enough of the ecology of the hypercolony, how it worked, where it came from, and what it wanted from us. This was top notch SF that makes you think and gape in wonder, and I found it utterly convincing.
Where the book was less than perfect was with its human characters. They just didn't feel like they drove the action forward, like it was the case in The Chronoliths or Spin. Mostly, they move from one spot to the other while chasing each other, and the bulk of the novel is filled with background stories that mostly feel like buffer. The characters were well-defined, with distinct personalities, but they were just not that compelling.
But although the characters mostly failed to carry the action, the novel's central concepts more than made up for it. The result was a flawed but satisfying thrill ride, with one of the most sinister and fascinating aliens I've read in recent memory.(less)
Another classic from Ms. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven features evocative prose, an amazing and compelling SF idea, and plenty of great characters and...moreAnother classic from Ms. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven features evocative prose, an amazing and compelling SF idea, and plenty of great characters and thought-provoking situations. At less than 200 pages, it's a quick read, but a memorable one. I've been obsessed with its central concepts and world-building for the last few days.
The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr, whose dreams have a nasty habit of coming true. Fearful of the implications, George ends up in therapy to stop his "effective" dreams, but his therapist, Dr. Haber, has other, more ambitious plans for him.
A recurring question from novice SF writers is how powerful they can make their protagonists. Their fear is that, like Superman, they risk creating such an omnipotent being that they are incapable of generating dramatic tension. To all these aspiring SF writers, I say: read The Lathe of Heaven. This story is a textbook illustration that it's not about how powerful your main character is, but how compelling his internal struggles and contradictions. George Orr is god-like in his ability to shape the world through his dreams, yet his personality is exposing him at tremendous personal and global costs. The result is a tense, antagonistic relationship between Orr and Haber that is in no way weakened by Orr's world-shaping abilities.
The novel starts slowly, with Le Guin, in typical fashion, establishing her characters before she dives into her SF universe. But as the plot moves forward, things get pretty damn exciting and mind-bending. The imagery stuck with me, as well as the conflict at the heart of the novel. The concept of George's effective dreaming is beautiful, and beautifully realized through Le Guin's assured prose. There's even a reflection on race that I found both understated and insightful. When it comes to exploring concepts and ideas through SF, even her fellow grandmasters can barely match Le Guin's mastery.
If I were forced to criticize some aspects of the book, I'd focus on the weaker last act, which took a more abstract turn near the end. I'd also argue that some of the themes and setting elements of Le Guin's world, notably the reliance on hypnotism and some of the technology, date the novel somewhat. I'd also bemoan that Ms. Le Guin's usually masterful world-building feels more sketchy here than in, say, The Dispossessed. But these are minor quibbles. The book is amazing. It will make you dream, and think, and feel.(less)
I've been obsessed with SF depictions of weird, unknowable aliens ever since I read the fantastic Blindsight. Russo's book was recommended as an entry...moreI've been obsessed with SF depictions of weird, unknowable aliens ever since I read the fantastic Blindsight. Russo's book was recommended as an entry in this select genre (dark SF?), and although it offers some tantalizingly incomprehensible aliens, I'm sorry to say it's no Blindsight.
The near totality of the novel takes place on the Argonos, a generation ship that has been wandering for so long that some of its more religious passengers believe that the ship has always existed. In this, it reminded me, oddly enough, of Wool: the Argonos was everything Wool's Silo societies should have been if that book had been, like, good. But I digress.
The Argonos's society and politics were interesting, though I wouldn't call them mesmerizing; they had a certain simplicity, or perhaps one-sidedness to them that made them lackluster. For instance, the Bishop is clearly positioned as the story's antagonist, which made me expect he would end up showing unexpected depth of character. On the contrary, he kind of devolved further into villainous mode. (view spoiler)[His attempted murder on Bartholomew was nonsensical and silly, and there is never any satisfying dramatic resolution to the murder of Father Veronica. (hide spoiler)]
Then there is the alien ship, the mystery at the core of the story. The enigma is tantalizing, but its unraveling is a disappointment. It's OK that we never truly learn who these alien beings were, but we're never given even a glimpse of how they function or why they do what they do. The book tries to wrap this mystery in a discussion of Evil in a Christian sense, but I find it doesn't map. There is nothing about the alien ship that matches any concrete conception of evil according to Christian dogma. It's just shorthand for unknowable threat; but how is that evil? Is a tiger stalking a human prey evil? This never gets discussed, so the whole Christian conception is just there for dramatic texture.
What saved the novel for me were the characters. I liked Bartholomew, the protagonist, and I was happy with how his birth defects played a part in his character without reducing him to his deformities. He was a unique character because of it, strong, hard, but also caring. Likewise, Pär and Father Veronica were great: complex, nuanced, and interesting to watch interact with Bartholomew.
Overall, Ship of Fools offered a tantalizing mystery wrapped in tense atmosphere and compelling characters, but it petered out on its promise long before we reached the third act. Too bad; I liked where I thought it was headed.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I've said in the past that I had yet to read a self-published book that convinced me that they could be as good as one that came out of traditional pu...moreI've said in the past that I had yet to read a self-published book that convinced me that they could be as good as one that came out of traditional publishing. I'm not sure if this is this book, but it definitely kept me entertained more than many books put out by a major publisher.
Kick is unique both in setting and structure. The novel tells the story of Daniel, a suicide victim, who keeps coming back to possess the bodies of serial killers and other unsavory characters, then uses them to punish them in a way the law never could. It's like Robert Silverberg's Passengers in reverse; or, if you prefer, a mix of Dexter and Quantum Leap.
The structure of the novel is much more episodic than I expected from a full-length novel. I found it a bit jarring at first, but I grew to appreciate the format and went along with it. Daniel returns to possess a new criminal, then has to figure out what's going on and why the person he's possessing is guilty and should be punished. Rinse and repeat a few times. It makes for a quick page-turner, because stories are wrapped up quickly and we move on to a new mystery to unravel.
The prose is snappy and engaging. Daniel is a geek and has a sharp tongue, and the writing is often funny and unexpected. It's not great literature, and it does sometimes tend to prefer a witty retort to something that would have sounded more true and vulnerable; but it's fun and entertaining all the same.
If there's one aspect of the story that I found disappointing, it's that we never really understand what makes Daniel tick. We know why he's in this predicament, and we have an idea of the guilt that drives him, but besides the circumstances of his death, he remains mostly a blank slate. I would have liked the story to be more driven by Daniel's internal conflicts and contradictions; it does happen somehow near the end, but for long stretches of the novel we only glimpse Daniel through his determination to punish the killers he possesses.
These characters are often despicable all the way through, so they don't allow for a lot of moral conflict on Daniel's part. It's hard not to root for him when he decides to mess up a rapist criminal biker, for instance. I would have liked to see him deal with situations that offered more moral doubt and internal conflict.
Overall, Kick is entertaining and original, and for its short length, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Its setting is original and the writing is snappy and fun, making it a quick and memorable read.
Disclaimer: The author of Kick sent me a copy of his book when he saw me rail against the quality of self-published novels in general. It was sent to me free and without conditions, with the genuine hope that I would sincerely liked it, which I did.(less)
What a fascinating novel this turned into. It left me a bit cold for the first hundred pages or so, as I found the setting oddly unappealing and I had...moreWhat a fascinating novel this turned into. It left me a bit cold for the first hundred pages or so, as I found the setting oddly unappealing and I had a hard time identifying with the characters. But once the elements of the plot fell into place and the quiet storytelling revealed its characters to me, the book grabbed my attention and never let it go.
The main character of Ancillary Justice is utterly fascinating. Breq, or as she used to be known, One Esk, is, or was, one of the thousands of bodies inhabited by a living ship's AI. She's simultaneously her own person, and a mere segment of that human army that serves as the extension of an near-omniscient being that can jump between solar systems. The story of how Justice of Toren became Breq makes for one of the most unique protagonists in SF's recent memory, and despite the very post-human protagonist, the emotions she expresses are real and gripping.
It took me a while to get my bearings because, strange as it sounds, the setting itself is understated throughout the novel. Once I understood just what the Radch was and what they were dealing with, I became enthralled by the novel; but Ms. Leckie didn't just throw these elements at me, and took her time to build her setting. It's a work of great restraint that eventually reveals an utterly unique SF setting: part Roman Empire, assuredly, but also alien and original, definitely its own thing. One thing that I found very cool once I got past my initial confusion was the notion of gender roles in the Radch. I won't spoil it here, but suffice to say it's one of these things you can only pull off in the written medium.
If there's one thing I find missing in this fantastic novel, it's a greater sense of resolution once the third act comes to a close. One Esk's character arc gets a satisfying sense of closure, but the novel's events merely lay the way for an admittedly much-deserved sequel. I guess I'll have to keep reading, but considering how much I enjoyed this book, I can't say that I mind at all.(less)
Ah well, so much for "The Prince of Nothing" trilogy. I loved the first book so much that I suffered through the vastly inferior second, then still fo...moreAh well, so much for "The Prince of Nothing" trilogy. I loved the first book so much that I suffered through the vastly inferior second, then still forged on with this one. It's not as frustrating as the previous book (for one, the rape has been toned down), but it perpetuates a lot of the same problems.
It's easy to capture all the trilogy's problems in one word, and that word is "Kellhus." This character is so bad, he sucks the fun out of the supporting cast. This was painfully true in Warrior Prophet, and it's unfortunately still the case here. Kellhus has this insane superpower where he can read everyone like an open book, and can then choose what to say very precisely and get them to do what he wants. In literary terms, he shits all over their character arcs. Characters with doubts, allegiances, loved ones, suddenly abandon everything to worship his greatness. He also has a high opinion of the gibberish he spews as philosophical revelation, but that's another problem altogether.
Now, I'm not saying such a character is impossible to write in a compelling manner. Manipulation of others can make for gripping fiction. But Kellhus's method is just too convenient, too absolute, and not believable. Apparently, all he has to do is speak the truth to others and they worship him like a god. Sorry, but if a stranger came up to me and spoke the unblemished truth of my soul, I'd punch him in the teeth, even if a part of me acknowledged what he said. Our self-truths are never absolute, and they are wrapped up in layers upon layers of deception and complications. Absolute truth doesn't beget love; on the contrary, it can provoke hatred because it threatens the very edifice of our personality.
For this reason, I spent most of the book cheering instead for Ikurei Conphas, who's something of a cross between King Joffrey and Julius Caesar. He's a self-absorbed prick, but damn if he's gonna let some messianic Mary Sue wield his almighty ego. You go, you magnificent asshole!
Still, for all its faults, there are glimpses of the greatness I anticipated after reading the first book. The final chapter is full of revelation and fury, and many characters regain part of their lost agency. Achamian, as always, was a pleasure to read, even if he had a tendency to wallow in self-pity a lot. The book feels more like a setup for the next trilogy, but at least the story of the Holy War came to a satisfying conclusion.
Oh, and by the way: Mr. Bakker, next time you write a book, search for the word "fairly" in your manuscript, and ditch every single one. There are twenty-seven instances of the word in the book--twenty seven!--and they were all jarring and perfectly useless and broke my immersion every single time. It's not a style, it's a tic.(less)
The sequel to The Darkness That Comes Before comes swinging out of the gate, but it spends its creative energies pretty fast. The novel does deliver o...moreThe sequel to The Darkness That Comes Before comes swinging out of the gate, but it spends its creative energies pretty fast. The novel does deliver on the promise of the first book: we get to see the Holy War well under way, and the result is pretty exciting. But most of the story is spent taking characters in unsatisfying directions. The writing is still pretty solid, although Bakker really needs to cut back on his usage of the adverb "fairly."
The biggest problem I had with the story here is Kellhus. There's no reason that he should be presented as a likable character. He's essentially a highly functioning sociopath with no emotion of his own. He has God-like charisma, and is so apt a fighter as to defeat a charging army with ease. He would make an interesting villain, but Bakker is determined to make him a sympathetic messianic figure in the tradition of Dune's Paul Atreides. Ultimately, though, all I could see in Kellhus was the dark fantasy answer to the Mary Sue: an all-powerful being that is irresistibly charming, unaffected by emotional turmoil, and who can read the author's script and use it to his advantage.
I got particularly upset at Kellhus when he started derailing others' character arcs. The case of Esmenet was just sad. (view spoiler)[She starts out as a strong, independent woman, and her relationship with Achamian was one of equals, filled with deep understanding and respect. Yet Kellhus waltzes into her life and obliterates her agency. He manipulates her to love him more than she loved Achamian, then gets her pregnant so she will bear his heir. Ugh. It's like Bakker created this charming woman, but then felt the need to break and possess her through Kellhus. (hide spoiler)]
The treatment of Esmenet was disappointing, but then there's Serwë. She deserves some sort of prize for being the most useless and pathetic female character in fantasy. Her only—only!—quality is being amazingly beautiful. Otherwise, she's an airhead. But still she gets POV chapters, and we spend an inordinate amount of time understanding her relationship to Kellhus. (view spoiler)[She gets raped a few times, but hey, apparently that's par for the course. After one particularly repulsive and graphic rape, Kellhus just wipes her mind clean and we never hear of it again. (hide spoiler)]
Speaking of violence to women, this book reaches a level of misogyny that borders on the epic. There's a lot of rape going on here. Just to tell you how rapey this book is, at one point the author describes a character's sword striking swiftly across the air as saying it "raped the air." Yeah, it's like that. I don't know if sexual violence is a cornerstone of dark fantasy, but it bothers the hell out of me. Game of Thrones had rape, but it also had resourceful and sympathetic women who expressed how scary they found sexual violence. Here, rape is just thrown around.
Ah, but beyond all that, there's still a lot to like, here. I really like Ikurei Conphas, the glorious bastard. Achamian is by far my favorite character of the lot; he's human, frail, full of doubts and pain, and yet when he gets pissed off, he kicks an obscene amount of ass. I used to really like Cnaiür, but he spends this book glaring and spitting. (Cnaiür spits more than forty times in the course of the book. I counted them.) (view spoiler)[He also sexually and physically abuses Serwë, and justifies himself by calling it love. (hide spoiler)]
The progress of the Holy War was interesting. The external battles with the Fanim are told in the dispassionate style of a historical chronicle, but it's the internal politics of the war that really makes the plot tick. It's great to see nobles and factions scheme against one another just as they march against a common enemy.
The creativity that was such a strong point in the previous book is still there, but it seems to run out of juice pretty fast. Whereas the first book was devilishly inventive, here the setting feels well-trodden, and it mostly relies on elements introduced in the previous book. It doesn't help that the Fanim are a clear Islam analogue after all; the book even employs the word 'Jihad' to describe their concept of a holy war. (view spoiler)[One example of how the creativity has run out is the Cishaurim. When we meet a Cishaurim in the first book, he is striking and incredibly original: a man with empty eye sockets, and two snakes wrapped around his neck, serving as his eyes. Yet when we meet the Cishaurim in greater numbers, they all have snakes for eyes. It's like Bakker was done with inventing new and exciting stuff. (hide spoiler)]
All in all, The Warrior Prophet was a disappointing follow-up to The Darkness That Comes Before, but I still care enough about the story that I'll read The Thousandfold Thought. I just hope Kellhus will be less an author vehicle in the sequel, and that all these characters he hoodwinked will wake up to who he really is. And while I'm listing my wishes for the sequel, here's hoping for a woman with more agency and less rape in her life, please.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I'm so conflicted about this book. I adored reading it, but whenever I think back on it, I can think of so many flaws that I find it difficult to gush...moreI'm so conflicted about this book. I adored reading it, but whenever I think back on it, I can think of so many flaws that I find it difficult to gush.
What my head is telling me is that structurally, the book is kind of a mess. The novel is two novels in one, with the first taking place back when the old gang was under the tutelage of Father Chains, and the other involving a rigged election on the Bondsmagi home turf. Now, as the synopsis makes clear, the big central element in this book is none other than Sabetha, Locke's paramour whose very name makes everyone's favorite knave tremble with desire and regret. It makes a certain kind of sense to show us how Locke and Sabetha's relationship grew, because previous books were careful to skirt around the character. I just wish the whole plot about the play took, I dunno, a quarter of what it did. Or even better, Lynch should have released the book as a prequel to this one, thus helping us wait by giving us Sabetha's backstory.
The problem is, the flashbacks take an awful lot of space. There's very little tension involved in the shenanigans the characters encounter, because we already know Locke and Sabetha end up an item, and the specifics don't matter. Plus, it always galls me to see the Sansa twins again, because if Scott Lynch wanted to write about them so much, (spoilers for "The Lies of Locke Lamora")(view spoiler)[he shouldn't have fucking kill them, for crying out loud. It's sad to see these characters grow and have fun, because we know what will end up happening anyway.(hide spoiler)]
The scenes in the present are fun. The idea of having Locke and Sabetha face off against each other in rigging an election is great, but ultimately it lacks a certain tension, and the stakes are mysterious at best. Ultimately, the election-rigging takes a backseat to the rekindling of Locke and Sabetha's romance, and to politics whose scope escapes Locke's notice.
Ah, but here's where my heart comes in. See, I really dug the romance aspect of the story. It's not anything like what you think, either. Locke starts out with a boyish obsession over a girl who has very little say in the matter of his infatuation; he has this idea of her, and he's not gonna let reality convince him otherwise. But then something wonderful happens: Sabetha turns out to be a living, lucid, breathing young woman with her own head and heart. She's complex, not always pleasant, and sometimes she's as irrational and infuriating as Locke. And to Locke's credit, he ends up treating her like a person instead of a convenient target for his obsessions. No kidding, I think Sabetha is my new favorite female fantasy character.
Really, I have to applaud Scott Lynch for writing Sabetha so well. She's the antidote to all the female characters who exist so that males can lust after them. Lynch's gender sensibilities are such a breath of fresh air in a genre that is so often eager to demean its women on the grounds of historical accuracy. (Meanwhile, you're all happy to write about dragons and sorcery, you dicks.) Lynch's universe is by no means an egalitarian utopia, but it's such a breath of fresh air to see a fantasy world where women hold some positions of power, where being dark-skinned doesn't make you a horse-eating barbarian, and where homosexuality is no big deal.
And so, this book delighted me despite splitting my attention between two disconnected timelines. Sabetha and Locke are just that great to watch, whether they're working together or against one another. But by the time the book was over, it was my brain who started to complain again. My biggest complain is (view spoiler)[the idea that Locke is the reincarnation of some evil Bondsmagi. It just pisses me off. What made Locke extraordinary is that he was more or less a regular orphan, whose wits and charm made him extraordinary. Now I have to accept he's the reincarnation of some super-powerful mage. It doesn't fit with the scrawny kid who learned his trade with the Thiefmaker. It doesn't fit with his happy-go-lucky personality. I hate it. (hide spoiler)] But then I remember how much fun it is to read about Jean and Locke's banter, and I'm right back where I started: unsure whether I loved this book more than I hated its flaws.
I'm still gonna pick up the next book in the series, though. And Sabetha better be in it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Perhaps it's the comparisons to Starship Troopers and The Forever War that ruined this book for me. I went in expecting a thoughtful military SF novel...morePerhaps it's the comparisons to Starship Troopers and The Forever War that ruined this book for me. I went in expecting a thoughtful military SF novel dealing with war and trauma, and although there was some of that, overall the story left me dissatisfied.
A big part of the problem is that the story does a sharp narrative turn about a third into the book. We go from a gritty, straightforward military SF story following Felix, to the first person narration of Jack Crow, a dashing pirate who attempts to infiltrate a scientific outpost on the orders of a pirate and deserter. It was jarring to say the least, and as a result I never connected with Jack Crow. Oh, he's well-written and interesting, sure, but he's not the protagonist I wanted to read about. Besides, I found the characters he dealt with to be flat and uninteresting.
And so, by the time we learn more about Felix, I had stopped caring for the story altogether. Perhaps my reading experience would have been different if I had known about the book's structure going in, but regardless, there's just something makeshift about the book, like the author wrote about Felix then got bored with the subject matter halfway through.
Felix's psychology was interesting, and I enjoyed reading the first third as he adjusts to the infernal environment of Banshee and the Antwar. Unfortunately, by the end of the novel he's not the everyman soldier anymore, and instead he's some kind of super-soldier survivor whose psyche is unique and unprecedented. That, in my opinion, weakened the story immensely.
All in all, Armor suffers from comparisons to the likes of The Forever War, which is a work of much greater subtlety and purpose. There are some good ideas in here, but not enough, in my opinion, to save a disjointed book.(less)
As William Gibson said, "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." I travel a lot, and I see the evidence of this everywher...moreAs William Gibson said, "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." I travel a lot, and I see the evidence of this everywhere I go; I once sat in an Aboriginal village council meeting in rural India where discussions on the necessity of clean running water were interrupted by the village leader's ringtone.
Air is the story of that point when the future will be evenly distributed, and the one village on Earth that's the least ready to welcome it. The novel does something I've never seen before: it starts with a great SF concept, then explores those who are the absolute farthest from its reach. The result is a novel about the motives of poverty, resourcefulness, vision, and the need to embrace inevitable change.
"Air" is a technology that will soon join the world's minds into a global, wireless Internet. Chung Mae, a poor peasant who fancies herself a fashion consultant, lives in a fictional Central Asian mountain village whose people are arguably the least ready for this quantum leap in human development. When the UN performs a test to verify their readiness, tragedy ensues and Mae's spirit becomes intertwined with that of a dying woman. But Mae also recognizes the inevitability of Air, and she sets about learning and teaching the ways of the future to her divided village.
Mae is amazing. She's resourceful, smart, visionary, but she's also kind of messed up emotionally. She has her flaws and her hangups, which just make her victories and her strengths more vivid. She's the kind of character I loved, even as I wished someone would slap some sense into her, in particular when it comes to men.
The story itself, when it focuses on Mae's efforts to rally her village, is gripping and beautiful. Ryman writes about the poor fictional Karzistani village with lucidity and compassion. He describes the mindset of rural villagers without the condescension one would expect with such a subject matter. Sure, there are times when I wished the villagers were less wrapped up in their own little conflicts; but I suspect Ryman was writing about the whole of humanity when he wrote these things. One just needs to look at climate change and alternative energies to realize that Mae's Karzistani village is us. Well; with the exception that they ultimately learn to change and grow. Jury's still out whether we as a species are capable of such a brave step forward.
Where the novel was less than stellar for me is when it headed down predictable "literary fiction" paths. The middle part in particular drifted into literary metaphor territory involving a weird pregnancy and a talking dog. I kept wishing for the pregnancy angle to go away, because every time it was mentioned I would lose part of my suspension of disbelief. The novel was doing so well before that, too.
Air itself is intriguing, but exploration and a bit of exposition didn't help it. I eventually realized that it wasn't so much a SF concept as a magic realism one; for that reason, I hesitate to classify the novel as science fiction, though it sure blends genres quite skillfully and unexpectedly. It's not even a problem that Air doesn't make much sense; ultimately, this novel is about what comes before, and Air itself is the vague threat on the horizon.
But all these qualms aside, Air was a compelling, fascinating read about the necessity of change, and how the best of us can help the worst of us to adapt if we'd only listen. The future is coming whether we like it or not; but it behooves us to listen the day a Chung Mae shows up to teach us about it.(less)
I enjoyed this book, even though it felt disjointed and interstitial to the Temeraire series. The writing is as enjoyable and fast-paced as ever, but...moreI enjoyed this book, even though it felt disjointed and interstitial to the Temeraire series. The writing is as enjoyable and fast-paced as ever, but there's a meandering quality to this book, as well as a distinct lack of resolution to the plot.
The first part of the novel sends our heroes on a journey from China to Istanbul to secure unhatched eggs for Britain. The trip over was interesting and went by quickly, but Istanbul itself was a letdown. Whereas Novik created a stunning and memorable alternate version of Beijing for Throne of Jade, Istanbul just felt flat and lacked details. There's some action involving a harem, but that's pretty much it. It had nothing of the grandeur and inventiveness of China, which is too bad.
In the second half, the plot takes a sharp turn to show us the Prussian campaign. Although the stakes are high for the whole of Europe, Temeraire and Laurence are more or less conscripted into a conflict that is their own only by association. It's as if Novik really wanted to tell us her version of the Prussian war and decided to interrupt her own novel to do it. She throws historical names and places around that mean little to non-historians, while the plot with the eggs is put on pause.
One great aspect of this second half, though, is (view spoiler)[Lien, Temeraire's Celestial nemesis. The idea of making Lien an integral part of Napoleon's Grande Armée is a lot of fun, and it makes the war very personal for Temeraire and Laurence. Lien is smart and cunning, and her transformation of France's air strategy was interesting and sinister. Can`t wait to see where Novik takes this character. (hide spoiler)]
Ultimately, the novel wanders for a while through the battlefields of Europe, but those seeking a resolution or emotional payoff have to wait for the next book in the series, Empire of Ivory. When the writing is so much fun, and the characters so endearing, though, it's hard to mind.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
An all-time fantasy classic by Vance that spawned an entire sub-genre as well as D&D's magic system. How can I not like it?
Well, given that pedigr...moreAn all-time fantasy classic by Vance that spawned an entire sub-genre as well as D&D's magic system. How can I not like it?
Well, given that pedigree, this book was actually a disappointment. Oh, it's a beautifully-written book, with elegant and evocative prose. And true to Jack Vance's reputation, it's a breathtaking bit of world-building as well. Thing is, it's just not that engaging. The novel is composed of six loosely interconnected stories, with little or no dramatic arc building across them. The stories themselves are mythic and picaresque, which makes for sluggish reading over time.
That being said, it's no surprise that the book inspired fantasy giants from George R.R. Martin and Gary Gygax to Gene Wolfe himself. The idea of a fantasy setting taking place in the dying hours of the Earth is startling and engaging. Although it plays very little role in the stories themselves, it gives them a lyrical depth and texture that explains the book's status as a classic.
It was particularly interesting to read this knowing it was one of the early influences for Dungeons & Dragons; as a matter of fact, the D&D spell system, where mages memorize their spells then forget them as soon as they're cast, is taken straight from this book. Turns out that a few other elements of D&D are homages to The Dying Earth: spells such as Prismatic Spray refer to a spell in the book, and I only recently realized, in a great moment of facepalmery, that the name of one of my favorite D&D villains, the lich Vecna, is an anagram of Vance.
Beyond the story of T'sais, I had a hard time sticking to its uneven pacing and meandering plot. Still, it's a great piece of fantasy literature history, and one which has inspired many of the greats who follow in Jack Vance's giant footsteps.(less)
The writing and characterization are nice enough, but I guess the timing is not in this book's favor. I tried to get into it, but I couldn't force mys...moreThe writing and characterization are nice enough, but I guess the timing is not in this book's favor. I tried to get into it, but I couldn't force myself to care for the setting or the characters. I'm gonna just give it up now, instead of struggling with it.
I like that the author made the setting Muslim without turning it into an oriental fetish. Culturally, the setting is clearly Muslim, but also firmly its own thing. And the female character really kick a lot of ass. That's all good stuff, which I'm sure I would have enjoyed in different circumstances.(less)
Leviathan Wakes has some good, solid SF ideas, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The canvas is grandiose enough, featuring Earth, Mars, an...moreLeviathan Wakes has some good, solid SF ideas, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The canvas is grandiose enough, featuring Earth, Mars, and the Belt on the edge of war over a game-changing event. Unfortunately, shoddy characterization and sub-par plotting make it really hard to care.
The opening chapters were solid enough. We're introduced to alternating points of view that promise a broad perspective on a world where Humanity has escaped Earth but is still constrained to the Solar System. There's a difference in tone, as one POV is concerned with space battles, and the other with a cop looking for a rich girl who has disappeared. The Belter culture felt interesting and different at first, but it never got fleshed out more than it is in the first chapters.
Alas, the promise of the early chapters remains unfulfilled. The writing is largely to blame: there's just a lot of writing going on, detailing character inner states and hesitations. The action scenes and the larger events zip by pretty fast, leaving us with characters pondering what to do next, or dealing with their cookie-cutter personal issues. And yet, despite all this inner monologuing, the characters never truly gain depth and heft. They're crude archetypes at best, sometimes devolving into cliches.
The rest of the novel challenged my determination to see this book through. (view spoiler)[The concept of "vomit zombies" was contrived and uninteresting, even though it eventually led somewhere with the "protomolecule." There's even a sense of resolution when Miller finds "Julie" again, and the consequences of Miller's actions are intriguing. (hide spoiler)]
Leviathan Wakes felt at times like something Peter F. Hamilton would have cooked up, where the author takes a hammer to a finely-crafted SF universe. But the universe was not crafted with anywhere near the care that I expected. The politics between Earth, Mars, and the Belt were sketchy and simplistic, and none of the characters jumped off the page. And so, when the hammer fell, I just couldn't muster the will to care for any of the pieces.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
A really neat sequel to Novik's awesome His Majesty's Dragon. Laurence and his dragon Temeraire are back, and this time they're going on a trip to Chi...moreA really neat sequel to Novik's awesome His Majesty's Dragon. Laurence and his dragon Temeraire are back, and this time they're going on a trip to China, to the land whence Temeraire came.
I was concerned at first that Novik would somehow stereotype or fetishize the Chinese. For sure, the first encounters with Chinese characters involved the inscrutable cliché, but I was glad to see that Ms. Novik had other ideas in store. By the end of the novel, we're treated to a China that is complex, multilayered, filled with its own heroes and villains. Not only that, but when it comes to their treatment of dragons, the Chinese are clearly superior to the British, a fact even the nationalistic Laurence begrudgingly admits. The book is peppered with great little details about China, which added to its verisimilitude: Ms. Novik gets the food right, for instance, and the little Mandarin Chinese she throws in sounded correct to me.
Everything I liked about the first novel made a return here. The relationship between Laurence and Temeraire is explored further, and we learn a lot more about Temeraire's origins. There are exciting air battles and one pulse-pounding fight near the end. All that, plus we get to see a lot more naval action and ship life this time around.
This series is quickly turning into one of my not-so-guilty pleasures: smart, lighthearted, fun, fast-paced, and engaging. Looking forward to Black Powder War.(less)
What a perplexing book. On the one hand, I certainly have never read anything quite like it; but then there are tons of aspects of the book that are i...moreWhat a perplexing book. On the one hand, I certainly have never read anything quite like it; but then there are tons of aspects of the book that are irritating and unsatisfying, making the novel fall well short of brilliance.
The novel starts as an Adams-esque science fictional satire, complete with home appliances with snappy personalities. My suspension of disbelief wrestled with the setting for a while, until I accepted that it was satirical and surreal, and thus should not be expected to make much sense. I wouldn't have thought much of this book if that was all there was to it; but I stuck with it because some reviews mentioned that the story went somewhere unexpected. And boy, did it ever.
The second part of the novel starts to build a much-needed sense of gravitas, and takes a turn for the psychological. There are parts of it that qualify as horror, inasmuch as there is plenty of graphical descriptions of bodily fluids; but besides a frightening nightmare chase, not much of the horror elements resonated much with me.
The setting, though, became compelling and exciting. Smith captures the disjointed emotional landscape of dreams with brio. I tend to read in bed, and there were many moments where I had to perform a reality check to make sure the surreal, liquid prose wasn't the result of having fallen asleep and dreaming that I'm reading a book.
Ultimately, though, even the brilliance of this sequence isn't enough to rescue a scattered plot. The prose is sometimes flat, sometimes brilliant, but none of the characters really transcend hard-boiled stock. The novel feels as if Mr. Smith was carrying three book outlines down the stairs, tripped, and picked up the pages again. The story builds to an emotional catharsis near the end, but it does so by dumping background information on the reader in the last twenty-five pages of the novel.
All in all, a perplexing book. Quite unique, but not all for the right reasons.(less)
It took this complex, original fantasy epic to break me out of a long reading funk, but what a remedy it was. This is one of these...moreThat. Was. Awesome.
It took this complex, original fantasy epic to break me out of a long reading funk, but what a remedy it was. This is one of these ultra-rare fantasy novels that builds a completely original world; not a pseudo-Western, pseudo-Medieval fantasy, but something unique that makes you take notice. It took me a solid fifty pages to get my bearings; Bakker throws his readers smack into the thick of things, and the results are frequent paragraphs where it feels as if you're just reading a string of made-up names. But in time, things come into focus, and the heart of the story reveals itself.
The writing is superb, much better than a lot of books in the genre. It's intricate, complex, often surprising. You can't just skip through cliches: this writing commands your attention. It's pretty fantastic, especially in the service of a world that is so alien and different. When dark sorcery rears its head, the prose makes it nightmarish and unforgettable.
The customs of the people of the Three Seas are barely recognizable as analogs of our own. There are hints of the Crusades, sure, and even some philosophy that borders on Buddhism (with a clear reference to Vipassana meditation, cool!), but these are mere inspirations, not instructions. Jnan, for instance, is a concept of caste and proper behavior for which I can find no equivalent in our world; it reminds me of a few similar concepts in East Asia and India, but it's definitely its own thing.
There's an underlying philosophical framework in the novel, but I wouldn't go so far as other reviewers and say these are philosophical books. It's clear that Bakker is a student of philosophy and likes to infuse it in his works, but it never overshadows plot or characters. They're fun, but not so difficult to understand, and they give a heck of a heft to some characters. (For instance, I love what the title of the book refers to. I thought it was some evil being from the past, but it's way cooler than that.)
My only irritation with the book is its treatment of women. Two of the POV characters are women, and both are deluded, dependent on a man, and with greatly reduced agency. They're still great, complex characters who are resourceful in their own ways, but the trend is there. There is some dark sexual aggression going on here, and perhaps I'm giving it a pass because it's written with such an effective air of menace and mood in the service of a killer plot. If the prose came from someone less talented, it might beg the question of what issues Mr. Bakker is working through here.
A dark, complex, well-written fantasy epic filled with convoluted politics, complex and unpredictable characters, and original ideas and ambitions. It reminded me of Dune and Game of Thrones in all the right ways. What more could I ask for? I'm starting on the next in the series right away.(less)
This was my first novel by Polish SF master Stanislaw Lem, and I didn't know quite to expect going in. I sure didn't expect such a haunting novel, fil...moreThis was my first novel by Polish SF master Stanislaw Lem, and I didn't know quite to expect going in. I sure didn't expect such a haunting novel, filled with pain and existentialist dread. This novel deserves its status as a SF classic, both for its mind-boggling depiction of a true alien mind, and its complex, resonant prose that manages to express a sense of horror and disquiet I have only seen in a much more recent SF novel, Peter Watts's Blindsight.
The eponymous Solaris is a living ocean on a planet orbiting a twin star, and arguably the central character of the story. If you're tired of reading about aliens that can scarcely be distinguished from humans, then boy will you enjoy this one: Solaris is a mind so vast, so alien, that generations of scientists have yet to make sense of it. All they know is there is intent in these dark waters, as demonstrated when the living ocean conjures things from deep within the psyches of the humans assigned to watch it.
The novel works on two fronts. The first one, and arguably its most engaging on an emotional level, is the story of Kelvin, a psychologist assigned to Solaris, who confronts something that Solaris has conjured from the depths of his guilt. It would have been easy to go the same route as The Thing here and spin this into a confrontation; instead Lem chose an intimate, impossibly human relationship that evokes such a sense of pain, loss, and dread that it becomes much more effective and haunting. It moves slowly, without violence, and it is more horrific than many horror tales as a result.
Given these qualities, it's understandable that filmmakers chose to focus on this aspect of the story when adapting Solaris to the big screen. Yet the second aspect of the novel is possibly its most profound and disconcerting. In aparte, Kelvin recounts the long history of human exploration of Solaris, which only serves to reveal the depths of our own ignorance when trying to apprehend an alien mind. In this, the greater nature of Solaris is explored in depth, but never explained nor revealed. The alien being Lem describes is staggering and frightening, and assuredly a better approximation of true alien life in the Universe than, say, Star Trek's bumpy foreheads.
When the two pieces of the novel are taken together, Solaris stands as a terrific and poignant thought experiment in astrobiology. It's a statement on the limits of knowledge and science when approaching something that is utterly different from ourselves, and a rare glimpse into a mind so alien, so vastly different, that we can only wonder at the purpose that moves its depths.(less)
One day a self-published book will come along and convince me that self-publication can produce works that are as good as traditional publishing. Unfo...moreOne day a self-published book will come along and convince me that self-publication can produce works that are as good as traditional publishing. Unfortunately, Wool is not that book.
The first part of the story, which was written as a standalone novella, showed some promise. It was a good, self-contained SF story with a certain golden age SF quality to it, a unique setting, and an intriguing mystery. As successful as this self-published story was, though, I'm not sure its setting warranted to be expanded into a series. The more we learn about Wool's world, the less it makes sense. The world loses its sense of depth, and the cracks in the logic start to appear. How does this society maintain taboos? Who are the priests who allegedly fabricate this fantasy? Why is there a need to lie about anything? Who are the other occupants of the silo besides IT and Mechanical? (view spoiler)[Wouldn't it be easier to just send people out to clean with functional suits, instead of building advanced VR goggles to convince convicts to go wash the damn lenses? (hide spoiler)] The more the story progresses, the greater the questions become.
The story itself rambled and flagged in parts. Large segments of the action seemed to happen to pad the story until the predetermined outcome took place. (view spoiler)[For instance, there was absolutely no need for Juliette to go down under the water in Silo 17, consider she ends up leaving the silo the way she came. (hide spoiler)] Scenes are drawn out in pointless details, such as characters trying to fix a piece of machinery or thinking back on events we have already witnessed.
The writing is workmanlike. It's not terrible, and it's certainly competent, but it never shows signs of texture, nuance, or subtext. Characters speak their mind; they never evade or lie. They speak like modern Americans despite having lived underground for centuries. The aspect that drove me nuts the most is the level of environmental detail in dialogues. If one character is eating during an exchange, we get to read about each bite, how he picked up a piece of this or that, how it was too hot or too cold. It made me dread eating dialogue sequences.
Maybe I'm being too cynical of self-publishing. I'm sure there must be great material out there that's self-published, and I don't mean to knock them all. That being said, I see the above problems as a consequence of the lack of a strong editorial role in self-publishing. Editors of self-published works are on the writer's payroll, and so ultimately defer to their judgment. But what's needed for a stellar novel is for an editor to be tough enough to rein in the writer, and force them to rework something they'd rather not touch. It's the same phenomenon in movies: Star Wars and The Matrix were produced with studios breathing down the directors' necks and forcing them to tweak and improve, whereas The Phantom Menace and the Matrix sequels had no one telling them what needed to be scrapped.
If Wool had fallen in the hands of a competent editor at a respectable publisher, it's possible Mr. Howey would have been told to start again and fix the dramatic structure of his novel. He might have been encouraged to tighten his prose and work on his dialogues. The novel that would have come out of this process would surely have featured the same strong characters and the intriguing post-apocalyptic setting, but it would surely be a leaner, more engaging novel.
I'm being harsh with this book because I really liked the beginning of it, and was sad to see it unravel (no pun intended) as pages went by. I liked Juliette a lot, for instance. She's a strong, capable woman, which is refreshing to see. I liked the mystery behind the cleanings. But I can't shake the feeling that Wool lies somewhere between first draft and finished novel.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I'm sure there's an audience for this book, but I'm not it. It's not that I mind romance in my SF; I ate up Cordelia...moreUgh. I'm not in the mood for this.
I'm sure there's an audience for this book, but I'm not it. It's not that I mind romance in my SF; I ate up Cordelia's Honor, for one thing. But this romance is telegraphed from the get-go, and I could never get over the "stuffy, intellectual, but emotionally crippled alien" trope. You can call them Sadiri, but I'm still seeing the Spock ears.
If you're in for a SF romance featuring thinly-veiled Vulcans semi-flirting with a bubbly and irritating first person narrator, then by all means, indulge yourself. But please don't compare this to Ursula K. Le Guin just because it's a) written by a woman, and b) unconcerned with the mechanics of hyperdrive jumps. This ain't even The Right Toenail of Darkness.(less)
If I taught SF literature in high school, I'd make this book mandatory reading, knowing my students would hate me for it. it's not an easy book by any...moreIf I taught SF literature in high school, I'd make this book mandatory reading, knowing my students would hate me for it. it's not an easy book by any means; its structure is complex and obfuscated on purpose, and its subject matter is uncomfortable and necessary. But really, this is why SF exists in the first place.
The book has been heralded as the quintessential feminist SF, and it saddens me to know that this automatically reduces its reach. It's true that the book is singularly concerned with subjects articulated by feminism, but I think it should be required reading for everyone of either gender. I wish I could go back in time and force fifteen year-old me to read this. And boy, is there a lot of piss and vinegar in this book. Sometimes the anger just radiates off the page. It's a visceral book of raw nerves and flayed skin. It's amazing.
The SF elements are more than merely allegorical. Ms. Russ spent a lot of energy building her woman-only utopia of Whileaway. The result is fascinating in its own right, and not entirely as one-sided as a feminist polemic would imply. Likewise, Alice's dystopia is fascinating SF in its own right, even as it serves as allegory for our world.
The novel, albeit short, is a difficult read, but I don't mean this in a bad way. The author obviously meant to confuse the reader with her narrators, and I quickly learned not to worry too much about figuring out what was going on. The book often swerves into pure polemical flights of fancy, and these packed quite a rhetorical and philosophical punch. It's gut-wrenching stuff for me as a man: a woman speaking directly to me, with no filter on her anger, her hopes, her hatred.
Some reviewers accuse this book of no longer being relevant, to which I can only laugh. We live in an era where female pornstars are conceived by the mainstream as feminist icons, where CNN eulogizes the career of teenage star athletes condemned for rape, and where male lawmakers still try their best to legislate vaginas. There is one aspect where I feel the book is dated, and it has to do with the scope of its feminism; there is no room here for a larger discussion on privilege that encompasses race, for instance. Also, the aspects of the novel dealing with transgenders are downright offensive. But even these elements do not ultimately take away from a powerful, socially relevant book.(less)