The Good: Similarities to Stephen King's "The Mist" aside, the book has an interesting plot and premise. The author gives excellent descriptions of pl...moreThe Good: Similarities to Stephen King's "The Mist" aside, the book has an interesting plot and premise. The author gives excellent descriptions of places, things, technologies, and overall atmosphere (I'm jealous of his vocabulary). There is usually a steady supply of action and monsters to keep the plot, most of which takes place in life boats stranded on a "dead sea", moving along.
The Not So Good: Too much of anything can be a bad thing. There is a fair amount of repetition in the description of both the characters' surroundings and the characters themselves. Establishing characters with their actions is much more effective than straight-forward exposition (show me don't tell me). Metaphors should be kept at a minimum too. It's usually sufficient to describe the thing itself without mentioning how much it's "like" something else. A constant stream of metaphors is just a distraction.
The Verdict: I would disagree that this is a Lovecraftian story, though it does have Lovecraftian moments. It's more of a haunted house story where the haunted house is another dimension. If there had been less telling and more showing I would have given it four stars. Overall, it was a fun read with lots of monstrous weirdness but would have been even better as a shorter, more streamlined story.(less)
Don't be fooled by the odd choice of a cover. This book is firmly in the category of hard-core fantasy. That said, I really enjoyed it. Vance has crea...moreDon't be fooled by the odd choice of a cover. This book is firmly in the category of hard-core fantasy. That said, I really enjoyed it. Vance has created an interesting, richly developed setting and filled it with amusing (if somewhat amoral) characters who pursue various plots and schemes, sometimes succeeding but just often falling victim to their own cleverness. The best part is the language. Great prose and wordplay, though some might find it a little stilted. I think it's pretty obvious that these stories were as big an influence on early D&D as the Lord of the Rings, especially the way magic is handled. I really enjoyed it.(less)
I read this book a long time ago on a recommendation from a friend, then later bought my own copy and reread it. I find the idea of evil as a psycholo...moreI read this book a long time ago on a recommendation from a friend, then later bought my own copy and reread it. I find the idea of evil as a psychological phenomena very interesting and that’s the crux of this book. The author defines evil as “malignant narcissism”, whereby the narcissist creates a sort of fantasy world with himself at the center of the universe and manipulates those around him to perpetuate this fantasy. The religion angle the author tossed in was a little weird though, especially considering this book is supposed to be about psychology, not spirituality. Overall I found it very interesting and thought-provoking.(less)
If Dante's Inferno and a Tom and Jerry cartoon had a baby, it would be this book. As it just so happens, the hell the author claims to have experience...moreIf Dante's Inferno and a Tom and Jerry cartoon had a baby, it would be this book. As it just so happens, the hell the author claims to have experienced matches the generic version of hell often portrayed in popular culture complete with fire and brimstone, wailing spirits encased in living skeletons, and cackling demons armed with pointy sticks. So what's being revealed? Don't most Christians already believe this stuff, including the stuff that doesn't even have any sort of biblical precedent? And why didn't Jesus pick a better writer for these "revelations"? The writing is amateurish at best, not to mention PAINFULLY repetitive. Did I mention that the writing is repetitive? Speaking of Jesus, the Jesus in this book is a real jerk. The biblical Jesus preached compassion and forgiveness, but this Jesus just goes around chastising people who are already dead and in hell. This seems kind of petty, especially for the Son of God. And what are some of the wicked and awful sins for which these people are justifiably damned for all eternity? Among them are homosexuality, practicing witchcraft (yes, witches are real), and lust. The word "lust" must be used a thousand times in this book. Call it a hunch but I'm wondering if the author has some church-installed guilt regarding her naughty bits. Here are some things I learned from this book:
1) Hell is located at the center of the earth and is shaped like a giant body. Just like in the bible. 2) Hell is filled with cell blocks seventeen miles high. The manner in which the author measured these cell blocks is not recorded. 3) God allows evil spirits to wander the earth where they trick people into committing acts of unpardonable wickedness, like for example being Hindu. 4) Satan talks like a comic-book caricature of, well, Satan. 5) Heaven is a giant bureaucracy complete with overflowing file cabinets. Apparently God hasn't switched to electronic record-keeping yet. 6) Jesus won't hesitate to add insult to injury. And he seemed like such a nice guy. 7) The greatest sin of all isn't child-rape or mass murder. The greatest sin of all is using your God-given free will to choose not to accept God's love, His infinite, terribly confusing love. 8) The End of Days is near. Or at least nearer than it was yesterday.
The only thing I really learned from this book (aside from the fact that being a writer doesn't necessarily mean being able to write) is that fear is an integral part of Christian dogma, or at least the writer's version anyway. Apparently, God loves you with infinite compassion and infinite mercy but unless you acknowledge His greatness (sounds suspiciously like pride which is a sin, right?) He will not hesitate to condemn you to eternal torment for sins committed during a brief mortal lifetime. And then Jesus will pop up every once and awhile and say "I told you so". (less)
"At the Mountains of Madness" is one of if not the most personally influential story I have ever read. Granted, it has shortcomings in a "traditional...more"At the Mountains of Madness" is one of if not the most personally influential story I have ever read. Granted, it has shortcomings in a "traditional literature" sense, but nobody tops H.P. Lovecraft when it comes to creating a sense of desolation and cosmic dread. It's not that we're alone in the universe, we just haven't been noticed yet. And we'd better hope it stays that way.(less)
I hate Gene Wolfe. I hate him for his creativity and mastery of words. The Book of the New Sun series, of which "Shadow of the Torturer" and "Claw of...moreI hate Gene Wolfe. I hate him for his creativity and mastery of words. The Book of the New Sun series, of which "Shadow of the Torturer" and "Claw of the Conciliator" compromise the first two parts, is a work of art. Be warned, this is no light read. It's a story about an epic quest in a brilliantly detailed futuristic medeival setting, but there's nothing traditional about it. The book begins with the main character, an apprentice torturer, committing an intentionally fatal act of mercy which sets the tone for the entire series. There's very little to indicate its flawed characters have any chance of a happy ending. It's a dark and sometimes dense ride but it's worth it. (less)
Mindless fantasy fun. The line between good and evil is clearly defined and the emphasis is on over the top action. If you're looking for a quick, eas...moreMindless fantasy fun. The line between good and evil is clearly defined and the emphasis is on over the top action. If you're looking for a quick, easy read involving magic, monsters, and sword fights, this is the series for you.(less)
A twisted take on fantasy cliches, Evil's foot-soldiers take center stage in this novel. Empowered by modern weapons found in a dragon's treasure hord...moreA twisted take on fantasy cliches, Evil's foot-soldiers take center stage in this novel. Empowered by modern weapons found in a dragon's treasure horde, a band of orcs set about taking down both their old enemies and erstwhile masters. It's very imaginative and entertaining (not to mention very violent) though the characters are...well, whatever the opposite of nuanced is. No tortured anti-heroes here, just semi-generic good guys (who don't last very long) and bad guys who gleefully lay waste to everything in their path. In other words, if you're looking for a clear-cut struggle between right and wrong with the possibility of redemption, look elsewhere (okay, this might be a stretch but you could maybe call it an empowerment fable). If you're looking for unrepentant carnage, this is your book. (less)
A nice and well-chosen collection of modern day weird tales. As a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries, I'm happy to see that modern authors a...moreA nice and well-chosen collection of modern day weird tales. As a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries, I'm happy to see that modern authors are carrying on the tradition of horror rooted not in people being butchered by masked psychopaths but terror of the unknown. Lovecraft fans will especially enjoy "A Little Colour in Your Cheeks" by Michael Minnis, a homage to Lovecraft's own "The Colour Out of Space". Recoomended.
James Pratt, author of 'When Dead Gods Dream: A Collection of Lovecraftian Short Stories' (less)