I'd like to read the book in it's first published straight ahead fashion, to see how it differs. As for the Remix, while you do have to jump around li...moreI'd like to read the book in it's first published straight ahead fashion, to see how it differs. As for the Remix, while you do have to jump around like a choose-your-own-adventure, the story is still easy to follow, perhaps simply because from chapter to chapter, paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence the narrative time jumps all over the place anyway. It seems in some ways that you could almost read each chapter in any order and it wouldn't change your enjoyment of the book. Well, I suppose it might if some of the twists and surprises were revealed too early.
It's my first Palahniuk book- and apparently the first he wrote but third to be published- so I'm not sure if the style of writing in Invisible Monsters is indicative of all his work. It comes across as more stream of consciousness rather than narrative and sometimes it feels like it's lacking punctuation, which caused me to have to pause a re-read a sentence here and there. Regardless, I did like his style, which I think matched the layout of the book itself. I liked his staccato rhythms and willingness to abandon "proper" writing for impact.
This felt like a really fast book to read. I read the first few chapters over two or three days, but I essentially read the bulk of the book over a few hours in bed and the next day during lulls at work. The whole thing really snaps along.
An enjoyable read, I'd recommend it. Nothing too seriously earth shattering, but maybe that's because so much in the world has changed since it's original publishing date in 1999, including myself, that a lot of what's in the book just doesn't seem that shocking or strange anymore. I imagine if I had read this as a 24yr old, I might have been seriously wowed by a lot in it, but with all I've read, seen and heard since '99 it was just a romping good story to me.
Regardless, Palahniuk is on my radar now and I think I'll give the infamous Fight Club a read.(less)
I hate that Banks' last Culture novel is probably the worst. Perhaps I'll write a more in depth review at some point, but for now I'm content to simpl...moreI hate that Banks' last Culture novel is probably the worst. Perhaps I'll write a more in depth review at some point, but for now I'm content to simply list a few observations in no particular order:
- Pyan, Vyr Cossont's scarf-like familiar. Why? It added nothing to the story, not even comic relief. So much of this book just felt like Banks' pumping up his word count.
- The whole sub-plot with the Ronte and Leiseiden aliens and their efforts to scavenge the soon-to-Sublime Gzilt civilization. Again, why? There was absolutely no pay off here.
- Septame Bansteygen, seemed like a lynchpin character but ultimately everything he did was absolutely pointless and had no bearing on the outcome of the plot.
- There's enough pointless, indulgent material that could have been stripped out to pare the book down to a very manageable size with a good ripping pace, it's too bad that there's probably not an editor alive that would have challenged or tried to reign in a dying Iain M Banks.
This whole book was an exercise in frustration for me. It felt like Banks was doing nothing more than writing the most convoluted, yet ultimately pointless, novel he could. I suspect, without caring to research it, that he knew his cancer was terminal before or very soon after he started the book, which is an easy explanation for QiRia, the oldest living human ever and his painfully boring character arc.
Frankly, the book was disappointing enough that a don't even care to trash it any further. You could almost literally skip to the last hundred pages, where things actually begin to tick along and enjoy a fairly entertaining Culture novella. (less)
Imagine, a book that tells an entire story in 173 pages! In an era where readers accept no less than a thousand page tome, I find myself constantly lo...moreImagine, a book that tells an entire story in 173 pages! In an era where readers accept no less than a thousand page tome, I find myself constantly looking back to previous decades when writers had finally got beyond inflated word counts because they were no longer being paid by the word. I wish a few modern authors would remember this.
Anyway, on to High Rise.
High Rise, considered one of Ballard's finest, centres around three characters, mainly. As an aside, this book is rife with sexual stereotypes prevalent when Ballard wrote it, the mid 70s, so you must be prepared to look beyond those silly anachronisms. Regardless, the descent of a "modern", 40 story high rise apartment building from civility to barbarity is amazing.
The first third of the book lays the setting. Dr. Robert Laing, TV producer Richard Wilder and architect Anthony Royal are the lenses through which we view the collapse of the macrocosm contained within the high rise. Laing lives on the 25th floor, escaping a failed marriage. Richard Wilder, a brutish hedonist lives on the second floor with his wife and children. And Royal, one of the architects, though minor, of the high rise itself, lives above all in one of two penthouse suites.
Early on, simmering class resentments are palpable. People in the lower half of the building must park on the outskirts of the lot, they are viewed as more boisterous and rowdy and uncivilized. Those in the middle levels act as a buffer for the residents of the upper floors, those with the most money, the most refined tastes. At first, residents do little to acknowledge their prejudices, with people of all levels mingling freely at the frequent parties, in the shopping plazas and the swimming pools. Soon however, things begin to fracture as the building turns upon itself. Many others have drawn comparisons to Lord of the Flies, and I agree they are quite apt. While things degenerate slowly at first, suddenly it as though a switch has been flipped and violence erupts. A pet dog is drowned. People are assaulted. Finally, a resident of the upper floors is pushed to their death, over the side of the building.
Soon the building falls into disrepair as well: garbage chutes are blocked, power is knocked out, stairways barricaded, apartments ransacked for supplies. Trash builds up, amenities are destroyed, the pools filled with trash, feces and urine.
Residents of similar level band together and create clans, with those higher up holding more power and controlling the dwindling supply of working elevators. Food and women become commodities. People regress to a more savage nature as running battles are pitched for territory.
Robert Laing, who we are introduced to first, as he sits upon his balcony eating the remains of a dog, seems to adapt well, almost thriving within the new culture. The violent and sexually aggressive Wilder has only one goal in mind: conquering the high rise, including as many women as he can, and taking his place upon the top floors, supplanting Anthony Royal as "king". Royal watches events from his place in the clouds and begins to see himself as sort of the progenitor of a new society.
The pace of the book is excellent, as it starts out very calmly, introducing setting and characters, petty rivalries and minor problems. Soon though, things begin to ramp up out of control until by the last 100 or so pages the book has become very dark and everything is transformed into an amost post-apocalyptic wasteland. Wilder and Royal inexorably move towards their final confrontation as Laing seems to easily adapt to this new society, consolidating his own needs.
It was a really interesting book, though I did find the few short explanations as to why there was no governmental or otherwise intervention to be a bit lacking. From what I gather, the events of the book take place over only a few months, but one would imagine that with the number of deaths, as well as the interruption of basic utilities and heaps of trash and destroyed cars surrounding the high rise that there would have been more than a cursory glance at the building. Be that as it may, Ballard's writing was easily the strongest part of High Rise and any inconsistencies or shortcomings in the story can be forgiven in favour of that.
If you liked Lord of the Flies and want a slightly sci-fi take, with adults instead of children, this is a great book. Not that High Rise parallels LotF beat for beat, but they are similar.
This is the first novel of Ballard's that I've read, and it's definitely made me want to read more of his work. I'll be trolling the used book stores in my area, searching for these old gems. (less)
This is a tough one. In many ways, even having the basis of The Quantum Thief's universe already in mind, The Fractal Prince is both more and less con...moreThis is a tough one. In many ways, even having the basis of The Quantum Thief's universe already in mind, The Fractal Prince is both more and less confusing than it's predecessor.
I'm going to be honest: I have barely any idea what anyone's goals were in this book. Jean Le Flambeur wants his freedom. Mieli wants her lover back. The nebulous found Matjek Chen wants his innocence. Those are the simplest and clearest goals. The various factions, entities and personalities in this book seem to have little motivation other than the author's desire to tell a story.
It's unfortunate that I really like Rajaniemi's style, but his plots are so impenetrable. I like that he doesn't hold your hand, I like that the characters don't explain the basic concepts of their world to each other because these things are commonplace to them. I like that his story is complex and I like that his universe is rooted in real life physics and plausible speculative technology. What I don't like is that it's really difficult to keep the events of the book straight and to figure out who is who, what they are doing and why. Maybe this paints me as a dullard, though I don't feel that way. Rather, I feel like Rajaniemi's story is just really difficult for most people to easily follow. Maybe it's because he's a very intelligent man and refuses to write down to us average people. Or maybe it's just because everyone but Hannu Rajaniemi is going to have some difficulty reading a Hannu Rajaniemi novel.
I think part of the difficulty resides in the highly speculative and esoteric nature of his concepts. I get what a gogol is, but I don't necessarily get how they are used, how they can seem to communicate with others and why the can seemingly be "mined" from the desert. I don't know what a q-dot is, but I know it's got something to do with quantum physics and basically does magic. In fact, pretty much everything in this book is magic. I wouldn't even hesitate to say that both of his novels can reside just as easily at the fantasy end of the spectrum or the hard sci-fi end. A few minor word changes here and there and characters are performing magical spells instead of using advanced technology.
Ultimately, a muddled plot and liberal use of both made up and real jargon make The Fractal Prince a challenging read. The book is saved because Rajaniemi writes well and even when I'm puzzling over a paragraph I can still enjoy the way it's constructed. Were the plot just a little less byzantine and the characters motivations just a little more clear and realized, this would probably be at least a 4 star book, maybe even five. As it stands, I can't give it more than three stars.
Oh, one final note: the ending was extremely anti-climactic and, actually, kind of a huge let down. It didn't feel like an ending, more like a chapter break.(less)
Far from Morrison's best, and a disappintment. Not much to redeem this one, as it felt more like Morrison just wanking off to himself and some attempt...moreFar from Morrison's best, and a disappintment. Not much to redeem this one, as it felt more like Morrison just wanking off to himself and some attempts at creative cursing that amount to little more repeated use of "fuck" and "cunt".
The trite "bad thing" in the story involves kiddie porn, which I suppose is meant to make the main character, Nick Sax, likeable in comparison. Instead pretty much every character in the book is hate-filled, angry and depraved.
For some truly good comic writing by Morrison, check out The Invisibles or one of my favourite mind-fucks, The Filth. (less)
Bridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone were two great novels that I remember with fondness. I'd always hoped that Barry Hughart would either write...moreBridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone were two great novels that I remember with fondness. I'd always hoped that Barry Hughart would either write more adventures of Master Li and Number Ten Ox or, at the very least, more books.
Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago with I discovered Eight Skilled Gentlemen at one of my local used bookstores. What a score! I'd had no idea the book was even out there. Lucky me.
Well, while I wouldn't say it is a "bad" book, it was pretty disappointing. The plot felt a bit muddied and ramshackle to me. It never really seemed like a very clear adventure tale. It was more like a collection of loosely related stories and incidents cobbled together into book length.
I did still enjoy Hughart's wit and charm and of course Master Li and Ox were their enjoyable selves, but the story was weak in my opinion. Worst of all was that both villains were easily predicted and the whole [mild spoilers] tea and cages plot seemed not only overly complex, but kind of pointless.
I know I have a habit of writing reviews that seem to focus on the negative, so let me reiterate that I still enjoyed reading Eight Skilled Gentlemen, it's just that in comparison to the first two novels featuring the Master Li and Ox, it was a very disappointed book. (less)
Where do I start with this review? Originally, this book was recommended to me by a tattoo artist who was doing some work for me. We were chatting, as...moreWhere do I start with this review? Originally, this book was recommended to me by a tattoo artist who was doing some work for me. We were chatting, as you do when someone is driving ink into your fingers, and it turned out we had a lot of similar reading and genre interests. I can't remember how we latched on to the topic of Mistborn, but nonetheless, we did. The tattooist (Keith, by the way) had high praise for the Allomancy form of magic that Brandon Sanderson developed for the Mistborn books. I was somewhat skeptical of another fantasy trilogy, but Keith's recommendation was sincere and I figured I would give the books a shot.
First of all, I will say that Allomancy is an original and intriguing form of magic, even if I did find it a little too easily abusable in action and plot terms. As I noted in one of my updates, the line in the book about (paraphrasing here) "Allomancers not being able to affect metals within the body because otherwise they would just rip them right out of people's stomachs" was almost too much to take. However, it's possible that was just a red herring and that facet of Allomancy may have been invalidated by a later revelation in the book. Or it could just be a case of bad writing that was accidentally saved by a later plot point. Either way, the fact that at the moment I read the line I literally smacked myself upon the forehead makes it a gaff in my opinion.
Anyway, that's a pretty minor point and not really indicative of the overall book. What is indicative of the overall book is Sanderson's over-reliance on some fantasy tropes (which, I'll be honest, is almost impossible to avoid when writing a fantasy novel) as well as some phrases that get over used and too much "faux-ld english" style speaking. I mean, when characters sound relatively modern and then someone busts out a "Fear not..." it sticks out. There were also more than a few instances in the book where I felt like Sanderson used a phenomenon that would be unknown in his fantasy world to explain or describe something. Not having the book with me at the moment, I can't grab a specific example, but a few times at least I felt like what he was writing simply didn't have any relation to the world he had created, if you can follow me.
This first novel in the Mistborn series centers around a slave uprising against a totalitarian regime, led by a charismatic Allomancer named Kelsier and his motley crew of thieves and soldiers, along with Vin the young girl newly born into her powers. Pretty standard fare, for a fantasy novel. Evil sorcerers, powerful henchmen, young heroes, dynamic leader born of tragedy, etc. Set in a world of floating ash and desolate landscape (I was constantly wondering where the food came from- never a mention of food animals and all the plants are brown and unhealthy, apparently), a class system divided by master and slave and a select group of Allomancers- the titular Mistborn- who can burn various metals for a wide array of effects and Mistings, those able to utilize only one type of metal to perform magic.
Speaking of those fantasy tropes. The chosen one is the biggest of course. The chosen one is also a teen girl, who, it turns out, is immensely powerful. She falls for the handsome, yet disheveled and rebellious son of the realm's most powerful nobleman (outside the Lord Ruler and his oligarchy), who, of course, also falls for the young heroine. There's the usual crew of supporting characters- dashing and witty con men, tough soldier types, curmudgeonly old men, taciturn older brothers, etc. It's almost like Sanderson wrote the book from a "fantasy novel template".
I can admit though that even if he did use a template, Sanderson managed to inject it with enough spark and originality to sort of balance it out. I did enjoy the story and the chapter headers that gave us snippets of an ancient logbook written by a hero of yore laid a really intriguing back story that I hope will be further explored in the second two novels.
While I felt like all the characters were a bit flat, sort of one dimensional caricatures of real people that I really never cared about, they served well to drive the story along. For example, a fairly prominent character dies in the second half of the book and I really did not care. Yes, it was unexpected, but I simply didn't care that the character was dead. I had nothing invested in the character and their death did not bother me. There was perhaps a little too much internal mulling and introspection by our main character, but it didn't detract from the story.
Honestly, the story is where the book shines. Sanderson has crafted an interesting world (if implausibly inhospitable) and it's intriguing to wonder how it got that way. There are a few clues throughout the book, but nothing overt. There was an obvious calamity in the past, but we're never told the details. While I hesitate to call it a plot "twist" there's a really nice changing of gears in the latter half of the book which I wasn't expecting, so it was nice to see that the book didn't go down the exact road I thought it would. At more than a few points in the book I kind of felt like I wouldn't ever bother with the sequels, but the story was good enough in the end that I've picked up the second book and will read it for sure.
That being said, I found Sanderson to only be an average writer, skill and language-wise. Seriously, way too often when something dramatic or action oriented was happening characters "cried out" as they leapt or were injured or did something or had something done to them. Hey Brandon, what about "yelled out", "shouted", "screamed", gasped, grunted, roared, screeched? Did it really need to be "cried out" every time someone got stabbed or punched or launched an attack? I mean, I don't think he is a bad writer, but I didn't see any personality shine through. I found his actual language and sentences and word choices to just be bland as hell. It was like vanilla pudding all the way through. When I think of writer's who I've enjoyed and who's works I've sought out to read- authors like PKD, Zelazny, Banks and others, it's because they inject a real personality in their writing, through the words they choose and the phrases they use. Sanderson lacks that spark and flame in his writing.
Looking at his bio I see that he is that same age as me, but I feel like he writes like a much younger and inexperienced man. Perhaps his later novels show more maturity. Granted, Mistborn was published 6 years ago, so Sanderson was approximately 30ish when he wrote it, but even then I felt like I was reading a novel written by a guy in his early 20s.
Personally, I don't think that this first book in the series is deserving of all the four and five star reviews it received, however, when comparing it to many of the fantasy novels and series out there, I can see why maybe it gets such high praise. When all you get is fast food the occasional sit down meal at a mid-tier restaurant probably seems like fine dining in contrast. Ultimately that's how I felt about Mistborn: a solid mid-tier entry in the the fantasy genre. Maybe, like a chef (to continue the food analogy) he'll hone his craft at one restaurant then move on to the next and the next, improving his craft each time.
Mistborn: The Final Empire was a tasty enough appetizer to make me come back for more. I hope that the next course is even better.(less)