Murakami hasn't lost any skill as a writer and I read Colorless Tsukuru... quite quickly. Unfortunately, the book was a bit of a letdown for me. I gen...moreMurakami hasn't lost any skill as a writer and I read Colorless Tsukuru... quite quickly. Unfortunately, the book was a bit of a letdown for me. I generally only write reviews when I really dislike a book, but I make exceptions for great authors that I love reading who disappoint me.
Not since After Dark have I been left so unfulfilled and wanting from a Murakami novel. Not that Colorless Tsukuru was by any means as terrible as I found After Dark, but I was mightily disappointed. As mentioned, Murakami's writing is as good as ever. His prose is terse and evocative and his style lends itself to keeping me interested and intrigued. I really felt though, that for the most part the book fell flat. From the reason that Tsukuru Tazaki's friends cut him out of his life, to his visits with those friends 16 years later, little of the signature Murakami weirdness was present. On top of it, everything seemed so easily resolved and mundane. The side plots were pointless (his friend Haida, Haida's story of his own father, even his romance with Sara) and were left so open ended as to be frustrating.
Tsukuru himself was classic Murakami; the loner Japanese man, interested in jazz and/or classical music, or at least familiar with it. Either intense interest or disinterest in food (Tsukuru often "feels no appetite" and eats mundane sparsely described meals, as opposed to other novels where meals receive paragraphs of detail). He is bland and featureless, or at least sees himself as so. Mildly successful, dedicated, stoic, quiet. Murakami too often seems to write the same character, all of which seem to be based somewhat on himself. That's all well and good, but Tsukuru is the zenith, or I suppose nadir, of the archetypal Murakami protagonist. Colorless indeed.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Colorless Ttsukuru..., but I was hoping for so much more. The ambiguous ending, the seeming ease with which Tsukuru revisited his past, the easy reveal of the central mystery of the book and the lack of follow through there, all conspired to leave me dissatisfied. It pains me to review a Murakami book poorly (some would say 3/5 isn't poorly, but I have come to expect 5/5 from Haruki-san), but if I'm being honest this book really is only average for me.
Colorless Tsukuru is a good read for fans who await his output breathlessly, but it is a far cry from his earlier works like Hardboiled Wonderland..., Dance, Dance, Dance or even the fabulous and recent 1Q84. (less)
Originally I rated Ancillary Justice 3 stars, but after thinking about it, I think it deserves 4 stars, despite a few quibbles I had with it.
In fact,...moreOriginally I rated Ancillary Justice 3 stars, but after thinking about it, I think it deserves 4 stars, despite a few quibbles I had with it.
In fact, this was a very well written book, especially for one in which it felt like not a lot happened. I consider this to be quite a slow paced book, but Leckie was able to keep the storytelling compelling enough that it didn't matter. There were points that seemed to drag and I would wonder when we were getting to the point, but invariably it was worth the wait.
Breq, multi-faceted ship's AI reduced to existence within one human-like body, was an interesting concept, one that I think could have been expanded on even more. Or perhaps Ann Leckie has some more adventures of Breq planned for us. (I've just looked at Ann Leckie's Goodreads page and was pleasantly surprised to see Ancillary Sword set to come out this year)
Breq was once the AI in control of an enormous warship, controlling hundreds of "ancillaries", sort of independent units of herself, created from captured or dead humans. Each is linked with the others and all are Breq, yet if the connection is severed they act independently until they are reconnected. It's a really neat concept, similar to a few others I've encountered and I think that a lot more could have been done with it, though, ultimately, the plot cleverly incorporates the ancillary concept.
When we catch up with Breq, she's been reduced to her singular self and over time we learn how she became that way and what her goal is. The beginning, where we are introduced to Breq and her backstory is a bit of a slow burn, but worth the pay off in the end.
I would have definitely enjoyed more scenes with Breq being capable and bringing to bear her vast knowledge and experience and maybe showing off what her, presumably, cyborg body can do when pushed to it's limits. As it was, we got only brief glimpses into the true capabilities of Breq, and what she could do if needed.
For me there were only really two other noteworthy characters and one was only around for a portion of the book.
Lieutenant Awn and Seivarden are both introduced very early on, but one's story ends much sooner than the other. Which brings me to my first slight annoyance with the book.
I quite liked that Leckie made the choice to downplay gender roles significantly within her universe, however, I found that the way she treated them to be very confusing. Within the novel, Breq almost invariably refers to all other characters as "she", and yet some characters are described as being male-bodied - or at least masculine, yet Breq seems to ignore this. At other times, due to language barriers, Breq mis-genders some people and is corrected, but still refuses to correct herself. It felt to me like Leckie was making a statement about sex and gender, but it wasn't clear. Seivarden, for example, is ostensibly male, but Breq, even after discovering this refers to "him" as "her". Is this because Seivarden's gender role is female or because Seivarden is a male-bodied woman? I could never figure out the dynamics of this aspect of the book, and while it didn't detract from my enjoyment, I also noticed it whenever it came up.
(I read another review that states that in Breq's universe gender pronouns are neutral, but that Leckie chose to use "she" and "her" as defaults. I suppose this could be, since invented a gender-neutral pronoun could come across as hokey or lame. I'm not sure I entirely agree with this, but it does sound reasonable.)
Aside from that, the entire book was well done, though I did find the hierarchal structure and naming conventions of the ships and their ancillaries to be a bit obtuse. I think I mostly "got it", but it took more than a few chapters to become comfortable with the structure and rankings of the various ancillaries. That aspect did serve to make this far flung future for humanity more alien to me, which I appreciated.
I feel that the plot wrapped up a little too neatly and quickly, right at the end of the book. The way in which the antagonist is defeated seems like something that would have been a glaring omission in that reality. Because I've already mentioned this aspect, I'll engage in some minor spoilers: Breq's goal is to kill Anaander Mianaai, the tyrant leader of the The Radch (subtle association with Reich?), humanity's current political structure. Like Breq in her former incarnation as ship's AI with dozens, if not hundreds, of ancillary units Mianaai is also similarly fragmented/united. A simple communications blackout is used to prevent critical information from spreading to the Mianaais spread about the universe. Honestly, that seems like a huge oversight for entities that are so reliant on having a singular consciousness simultaneously acting across multiple units. I would think considerable research would be put in to preventing or correcting that scenario. Then again, absolutely no information is given on range of contact between ancillaries and the Anaander Mianaais and we're never explicitly informed that various Mianaai bodies may be light years apart or all within a certain minimum distance.
Regardless, the communications blackout seemed like far too simple a tactic to defeat such a god-like being, with near total control and obedience of all it's citizens. However, that being said, the tactic is established earlier in the book and it's consistent with the world Leckie has built, so while I may not think it's perfect, it works within the novel.
Anyway, a very enjoyable read and worth the price of admission. Looking forward to the next novel in this series, Ancillary Sword.(less)
An ok crime fiction book. Reasonably layered main character, suitable misdirection in the plot, completely underwhelming finale. Maybe the setting did...moreAn ok crime fiction book. Reasonably layered main character, suitable misdirection in the plot, completely underwhelming finale. Maybe the setting didn't do it for me. In reading a Norwegian crime novel, I guess I wanted more Nordic flavour, and less Australian, but I read this one because it's the first one about the Harry Hole character. Pretty light reading, I'd recommend for summer fare, but don't expect too much out of it.(less)
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)