My review of this book has to be considered in the light that I haven't read it since I was a teenager - although back then I loved it a great deal an...moreMy review of this book has to be considered in the light that I haven't read it since I was a teenager - although back then I loved it a great deal and read it multiple times.
Growing up, I loved those of Heinlein's books which focused on freedom - what it means, the cost of attaining it, and what consequences and responsibilities it entails. In particular, Citizen of the Galaxy was one of those books with a lot of "cool stuff," and it allowed me to superimpose my own dreams of reaching the stars over the protagonist. I was particularly enamored with the idea of the beggar who was much more than what he appeared. Citizen figured a great deal into my daydreaming, and into my early attempts at writing science fiction, so it was a source of inspiration.
The idea of a society structured around different classes of people - a meritocracy to some degree - was also fascinating to me. At a time when I was only just learning about world history and politics, the ideas in this book were all new and novel to me.
I would not, however, consider Citizen of the Galaxy great literature - which is why, as an adult, I assign it three stars. It would probably be considered young adult fiction today, and it's a fun romp with some interesting ideas. I don't, however, consider Heinlein a master of language or characterization. Most of his work, including this book, is often a vehicle for his own perspective. While interesting, it's more heavy-handed than I prefer.
Conclusion: Citizen has spirit, imagination, and enthusiasm - all of which makes up for its flaws. If you enjoy this one, you'll also like Starman Jones. (less)
One of the greatest survival stories of all time. This is a re-read; my mother actually read it to me when I was a child of about 8 or so. Recently I...moreOne of the greatest survival stories of all time. This is a re-read; my mother actually read it to me when I was a child of about 8 or so. Recently I was searching for something to do while sitting up with my toddler, and I had stashed this away with several other books I plan to read to him once he's old enough to understand. What was intended to be a quick flip through instantly turned into a "MUST READ NOW." I recalled the broad outlines of the account, but had not remembered how incredibly gripping every last page of this book is.
If there's one thing that stands out, to me, it's the fact that *everyone* survives. There are many mishaps and setbacks, but no fatal tragedies. Dougal Robertson and his wife have got to be two of the most capable people on the face of the planet, and the fact that they manage to get their sons and another young man through this ordeal alive is nothing short of miraculous.
Not much more to say beyond that... I'd recommend this book to anyone. (less)
For about half a minute, I thought this book was gonna suck. A woman obsessed with fancy shoes? Really? Ugh.
And then by the end of the first scene, I...moreFor about half a minute, I thought this book was gonna suck. A woman obsessed with fancy shoes? Really? Ugh.
And then by the end of the first scene, I was practically in tears. Rarely does a book affect me that much, and the end of that first scene is just the beginning of a story I could not put down until I had finished. I didn't even want anyone to talk to me while I was reading it. Just shut up, everyone, because these people are so real to me that my actual life seems secondary.
Greenwood's eye for detail is phenomenal, and her dialogue so pitch-perfect that I didn't even feel like I'd just read a book. I felt like I'd become intimately acquainted with two very real people - aspirations, faults, insecurities and all. I tried to start another book after I finished, and I couldn't do it. Jennifer and Olivia were people to me; I cared about them deeply, and I needed time to let them go.
This book goes up on my list of all-time favorites. I wish it was coming out before Christmas, because I want to buy it for every woman I know.(less)
On Monday, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Neil Gaiman speak. I won't go into details, but suffice to say that if you ever have the opportunity...moreOn Monday, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Neil Gaiman speak. I won't go into details, but suffice to say that if you ever have the opportunity to hear this guy, take it. He's brilliant, funny, and humble.
In preparation for the event, which was a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the publication of American Gods, I re-read the book from cover to cover.
I'm a big fan of "idea" books - China Mieville, Gene Wolfe, and Iain M. Banks all write incredible novels centered around an idea or a theme. They're deep and technically sound, like perfectly cut jewels.
American Gods is also an idea book, but it's almost as if the novel itself is the search for the idea. It never quite gets there - never crystallizes into that perfect "aha!" moment where everything comes together. I spent most of the time trying to figure out what, exactly, the protagonist is supposed to represent. It's a question asked over and over again by the text itself: "Who is Shadow?"
I had a lot of theories at the beginning, but by the time I had gotten about 3/4 of the way through I was positive Shadow represented the spirit of America itself. The bastard child, uncertain of his parentage, small in stature until the summer of his 13th year, when he grew so large that nobody dared tangle with him. The huge man everyone assumes an idiot, but is actually quite sharp; a man who possesses the moon but casually tosses aside the coin meant for a king. Is this not the USA?
But when I turned the last page, I was no longer sure. The end of the book introduced more uncertainties. We learn who Shadow's father is, resolving that mystery for the character himself... but what does that mean for him as a symbol?
I went to Gaiman's talk full of questions, desperate to hear the answers that seemed just beyond my reach. I was hoping he'd provide the insight I needed to "unlock" American Gods.
He talked a lot about the book - how it came to be written, what it has meant to him, personally, and our culture, since its release. He talked about the ideas that went into the book, the inspiration behind the story.
And then he said this: He said he came to a point where he realized he had to make a choice. Stop working on American Gods and call it done - or spend the rest of his life trying to fix everything that was wrong with the book.
That was the point at which I realized not even Gaiman had all the answers. American Gods isn't perfect, and Gaiman knows it more than anyone. He even spoke of his admiration for Gene Wolfe, one of his literary heroes.
Coming away from the talk, I was a little disappointed. Maybe Gaiman himself isn't quite sure who Shadow ought to be. Maybe Shadow does represent America... sometimes. Other times, maybe he's just himself. Or maybe he's one of the many gods trying to survive here in the USA.
Then I realized - that's okay! It's not a perfect book, and, more importantly, it doesn't have to be. Unlike Embassytown or Use of Weapons or The Fifth Head of Cerberus, American Gods is not a shining example of technical and thematic perfection. It stretched for something beyond mere thematic consistency, and although it fell short, it was a beautiful failure.
More importantly, American Gods is entertaining. It made me think, question, and ponder - not just what the protagonist was meant to represent, but what it means to be American. It made me think about who I worship, and why. It forced me to look at my country through fresh eyes. And in the meantime, it told a damn good yarn.
Which, in the end, is what really matters. And Gaiman is, without question, and in any medium, an absolute master of storytelling.(less)
I just finished reading A Fire Upon the Deep for a second time (before starting in on the sequel). If I were going to name every individual element th...moreI just finished reading A Fire Upon the Deep for a second time (before starting in on the sequel). If I were going to name every individual element that I love about science fiction, and then wrap them all into one book, it would be this one. Which is probably why it's one of my favorite books of all time. It's got:
- Compelling characters I love to spend time with - Creative alien biology/culture - Culture clash - Huge, sweeping plot arc encompassing vast civilizations - Super cool science stuff - Plot twists - More moments of "oh wow that is sooooo cool" than I can count - Satisfying ending - Thematic coherence
With science fiction, I find that authors usually go for one of three elements - character, plot, or science. A character book will be soft on the science and plot (Bujold); a plot-based book will be an entertaining ride but not have much I can identify with (McDevitt); and hard sci fi will be awesomely mind-bending but be hard to follow (Banks). Vernor Vinge balances all three elements to perfection.
In summary: Every time I pick up a new science fiction novel, THIS is what I hope it will be.(less)
The short version: This book is perfect. Buy it immediately.
The long version: Sometimes you get caught off guard. I picked up The Bone Collector becau...moreThe short version: This book is perfect. Buy it immediately.
The long version: Sometimes you get caught off guard. I picked up The Bone Collector because I have a long-standing mission to read and review books with disabled protagonists. (Soon-to-be-updated list here.)
I really wasn't expecting this one to be any good. Quadriplegic who's retained the ability to move one finger? And what miraculous feats will he be accomplishing with his single finger? Yeah; I was totally prepared for the "super-powered cripple" travesty.
Actually, as it turns out, Lincoln Rhyme doesn't do much of anything with his finger; at least, he doesn't do anything he couldn't also do with his mouth or head, if necessary. Mainly, he uses it to run a computer, which, at the time of publication (1998) was not a magical device that compensated for everything.
In fact, Lincoln Rhyme is severely depressed, a borderline recluse, as one might reasonably expect of a formerly active man who's been paralyzed from the neck down. More than that, Deaver has clearly done his research. He gets all the details right, and he isn't squeamish about stepping into the awkward territory of bodily functions. There is a bit at the end which is somewhat over-the-top, but I will gladly chalk that up to literary license. I honestly don't have much to say here, because Deaver gets everything right, from the equipment to Rhyme's physical capabilities and his mental state. It's all spot-on.
But wait - there's more! Lincoln is not the only masterfully drawn character in The Bone Collector. I was, if it is possible, even more surprised and delighted by the character of Amelia Sachs. Contemporary fiction is sadly lacking in three-dimensional female characters; I've learned to put up with either the "dude with boobs" or the cookie cutter being of pure emotion.
Sachs is neither of these. She is... good lord, she's a person. Rather than trying to ignore the fact that she happens to be female, Deaver tackles the reality of what it's like for an attractive woman to constantly tailor her behavior to cope with men's responses to her appearance. There's no "poor me" moping going on here; Sachs is rational, flawed, strong, vulnerable, beautiful, insecure, frightened, determined, and blessedly individual. A woman - a human being - I can actually identify with.
That covers the characters; for the rest, I'll say the plot is perfect. Like a diamond. And the level of detail given to police and FBI procedures is amazing; I really thought Deaver had to have lived in New York and been on the force at some point. In fact, he's just done his research. ALL OF IT. The writing style itself is nothing to remark upon, but in a mystery/thriller you want the prose to disappear as you devour the pages, and that's exactly what happens. No fluff provided; no fluff necessary.