Not recommended for: anyone allergic to SF-elements or who demands a simple story told from beginning to end, or who can't cope with old-fashioned pro...moreNot recommended for: anyone allergic to SF-elements or who demands a simple story told from beginning to end, or who can't cope with old-fashioned prose or a slow pace.
This book is quite simply a masterwork. From a slow beginning, it ratchets up the tension like an old-fashioned horror film, until it's truly thrilling. With relatively little in the way of overt psychological insight - particularly into Borden, one of the two main characters - it nonetheless constructs clear, sympathetic, understandable, totally human protagonists. While clearly enthralled by its own concepts and conceits and determined to play around in the areas marked 'post-modern' and 'literary', it is at the same time able to stand proudly as a totally readable, even old-fashioned, almost Victorian, mystery-thriller. Not that much really happens by blockbuster standards, and huge sections of prose are descriptions of entirely visual things - but these set-piece descriptions are spectacular and vivid, and frankly more visually compelling than any cinematic interpretation could be.
Underpinning all this success is Priest's prose, which may not scream for attention every paragraph but which is nonetheless quietly brilliant - I'm tempted to say virtually perfect. Most of the novel is in the form of two diary extracts by different men, each giving their experiences of the same events - both of them are middle-aged, English, Victorian stage magicians, and yet Priest manages to convey two totally characters simply through fine distinctions in narrative voice, the personality of the two writers dripping from every word and every idiosyncracy of syntax. This is a novel that should be taught in schools - not just because of the many, many themes and notions it introduces, but simply as an example of how to write.
It's also got one of the biggest narrative twist-kicks I've ever seen - as in I read one particular line and suddenly needed to re-read the last thirty pages while saying 'woah.....' a lot. You really won't be expecting it. And no, it's not one of the twists that makes it to the film. It's twistier than that.
That said, it's not perfect. I felt a little emotionally detached throughout, never quite completely involved, though I couldn't help myself turning the pages. The framing story isn't given enough attention, and feels weak compared to the two central narratives; the ending is by itself superb, but feels a bit unconnected to the rest of the story. Sometimes it feels that he should let himself go down a fascinating diversion, rather than force himself to hurry along with the plot. There are some other minor quibbles I could make as well. But they really would be minor.
It is, by the way, better than the (still quite good) film - it's deeper, it's cleverer, it's less simplistic, it's more exciting, less predictable, and it's more suffused with class and quality. However, don't come to this from the film assuming you'll love it - it's very different in tone, and with it's old-fashioned (though more readable than genuine Victorian literature!) style, it's slower, and may be less immediately accessible (but stick with it). On the other hand, don't assume there's no point reading this if you've seen the film, as there's a lot more to this than there is to the film, and the film doesn't really spoil the book very much. [I read the book first]
I heard that Lanagan was an author to read, so checked out a book of her short stories - I don't usually really get short stories, but I give them a t...moreI heard that Lanagan was an author to read, so checked out a book of her short stories - I don't usually really get short stories, but I give them a try every now and then.
Black Juice was definitely worth reading. I wish she would show this brilliance in a full novel (her one 'serious' novel, Tender Morsels, is excellent but doesn't live up to the promise of these short stories). Lanagan has an incredible talent for sketching out characters and worlds and making us care about them in the space of a few short pages. She is also a versatile writer: these stories are all strange (mostly set on the ill-defined border between an understandable future/past and outright fantasy), and all share a certain aesthetic, but in content and style they vary widely.
In general, Lanagan mostly focuses on the lived experience of individuals in bizarre situations. I know that 'focuses on the lived experience of individuals...' bit sounds like pretentious nonsense, but it's actually what she does. Religion and ritual are almost omnipresent in this collection - from primitive ritual executions, through ritual far-future re-enactments of 20th century weddings, through fallen angels, rites to appease the gods, charismatic cults, a church of clowns, and so forth - but the focus is not on the institutions of religion, but on how individuals life with and within these institutions. Similarly, familial relations are a constant theme - particularly the bonds to the father and mother. In a way, it feels like a collection of 'serious' and 'literary' stories that happen to have genre settings - except that there is nothing pretentious or dull about them, and the settings are an integral part of the method, which seems to be to explore how people work by putting them in unexpected places.
Emotion and psychological insight are well-served here. Action, less so - most of the stories are contemplative and quiet. Thrill-seekers should look elsewhere; so should hardcore world-building fans, because the settings are all amazing and inspiring, but are never clearly defined or or worked out. Some stories, needless to say, are weaker than others - but all are distinctive and memorable.
Worthy of particular mention is the astounding and award-winning first story, "Singing My Sister Down", which established Lanagan's reputation; my personal favourite, however, is the slightly unexpected 'Yowlinin' - a surprisingly 'ordinary' and exciting fantasy story about a town beset by man-eating monsters, told through the eyes of an orphan girl.
The dialogue is poor. The characterisation is poor, and the character development is poor. The ending is poor. T...moreA novel perched on the edge of genius.
The dialogue is poor. The characterisation is poor, and the character development is poor. The ending is poor. The beginning, which could be fantastic, is undermined by inserting an unnecessary chapter-length prologue of infodump before Chapter One. The ending is weird, and is a combination of dei ex machinae with sustain cod-philosophy lectures. My emotional engagement was weak throughout. The balance of the pacing is poor. And the main plot isn't 'derivative', because it's a confessed retailing of a more famous novel.
So it's hard to say why it's a wonderful novel. The best way to explain might be to say: this book is stunning. Literally stunning. The pace is hectic - not just in the pace of events, but the pace at which ideas and images and pearls of prose smash through the viewer's eyes, like machine gun fire. There's no book quite like this book. Reading it is an experience. You sit back and say 'wow'. And at the heart of it all is the prose, with is often a bit odd, but can be magnificent - beginning with the famous first line of chapter one: "He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead". sometimes I pick up the book just to read the first couple of pages of the first chapter. More than maybe any other prose I can think of, this is writing with majesty, power, threat, promise... shock and awe. And it creates a stunning novel of joyful, if dark, exuberance.
This is a book you should read in order to have read it. Yes, it's riddled with flaws that would sink a lesser book entirely, and for that reason I can't say that it's brilliant. But on its strengths, it's a stunning exposition of what is possible in science fiction. And there's nothing else (that I've ever read) quite like it.
A skillful and deeply moving first novel. Often described as post-colonial, that seems to me to be entirely missing the point. This is a very traditio...moreA skillful and deeply moving first novel. Often described as post-colonial, that seems to me to be entirely missing the point. This is a very traditional tragedy - it explicitly nails its colours to the mast by declaring that great stories are those that don't surprise you. And throughout this novel, we know what is going to happen - not the details, perhaps, but the general shape of it. We just can't escape.
The story is told from two perspectives, across the decades that divide a young girl from a young woman, and it is this sense of the passing of time - masterfully portrayed in the prose, which varies between childish simplicity and sophisticated elegaic lament. It is almost magic realism in the strength and breadth of its metaphors - we can take it on faith that nothing supernatural is happening, but the narrator, particularly when inhabiting a child's eye, makes no such distinctions. The metaphors repeat - everything repeats and repeats, metaphors and turns of phrase, premonitions and reflections, building up a rich texture of meaning and dread through repetition and through variation. This is perhaps the first novel I've read where the old line from the wine-tasting branch of literary criticism, "this novel creates its own language", actually seems applicable.
Perhaps it's too annoyingly twee at times - too childish. Perhaps the repetition gets a bit boring now and then - certainly i found it less effecting and more affected on a re-read, armed with the knowledge of EXACTLY what was going to happen. On a re-read, I found it a little artificial.
That said, it's still extremely good. It's beautiful and striking, deep and yet instantly accessible, and horrifically moving.
Powerful, beautiful, memorable... and yet not perhaps meeting the high expectations set by her short stories. Lanagan is no doubt a superb talent and...morePowerful, beautiful, memorable... and yet not perhaps meeting the high expectations set by her short stories. Lanagan is no doubt a superb talent and stylist, but I felt here that she had not yet mastered longer-form work, and there are some problems I would take issue with. That aside, it's still a very good book indeed.
[But I have no idea why it's being marketed as a Young Adult book]
A fast-paced SF slightly-comedic mystery thriller - that starts out a very, very good slightly-comedic SF mystery thriller, and then suddenly and repe...moreA fast-paced SF slightly-comedic mystery thriller - that starts out a very, very good slightly-comedic SF mystery thriller, and then suddenly and repeatedly morphs into unexpected shapes.
Maybe not the book for you if what you want is a slow build-up of character and setting, or if you want everything to make sense. Definitely for you if you want fast-paced funny and... unusual... SF.
A stunningly individual book - a glimpse into another time, through fascinating eyes. In some ways, it feels very ahead-of-its-time, the playfulness o...moreA stunningly individual book - a glimpse into another time, through fascinating eyes. In some ways, it feels very ahead-of-its-time, the playfulness of the narrator/author presaging postmodern concerns.
The flaw is that Munthe - while capable of some truly beautiful sentences - is not a novelist, nor even a prose writer, and is not writing in his first (nor, if I recall correctly, even second or third) language. As a result, from top to bottom this feels like the work of an amateur, lacking sophistication in prose construction and in structure, and with a bad ear for dialogue. If it weren't for this, it would be a brilliant book. Even so, we do get something in return: authenticity. It may be dishonest and/or misleading authenticity, but this is the voice of a man who is relating just some of his extraordinary experiences. And, as I say, he may lack experience and technique, but he does at time have a master ear for beautiful words. This is a big part of why I found myself crying at several points through the book (although of course the sheer amount of tragedy contained in its pages is a big part of that)
It may be largely forgotten today, but it's one of the most-read books of the 20th century, and fully deserves to be read even more. I think it's a wonderful book.
This novel defies the criticism levelled so often levelled against Asimov. Uninteresting plots that merely serve as exposition for idea? Not here - pe...moreThis novel defies the criticism levelled so often levelled against Asimov. Uninteresting plots that merely serve as exposition for idea? Not here - perhaps it's not the tightest mystery novel out there, but the plot is genuinely unpredictable and complex, particularly given the novel's brevity. Characters that are flat and cold? Not here! The stock genre characters (the weary detective, his neglected wife, the inscrutable robot) are given a surprising level of depth and warmth - and again, with the great concision and psychological acuity necessary in a book of this short length. R. Daneel, in particular, is the archetype for an entire genre of robots and androids - perfectly mechanical, honest, predictable, inhuman, and yet at the same time cunning, human, and incomprehensible. It's not only one of the great portrayals of a robot, it's arguably one of the great portrayals of any non-human intelligence.
Oh, and ghastly prose? Actually, no, not here. It's not going to win any awards, but it's mostly unobjectionable, and there are a few passages that, against all the stereotypes of an Asimov novel, truly stand out for their beauty.
Of course, it's still bursting with ideas, and it's a hugely important and influential book. Particularly impressive to me was the delicacy with which Asimov portrayed a 'dystopian' future society (two of them, actually) without condemning it as dystopian, but also without apologising for it. It feels as though the world exists for the story, rather than to make a political point.
That said, it's still not fantastic prose (in particular, much of the dialogue is clunky), and there's still not a lot of emotional engagement with the characters, and because he's trying harder in these areas there's not as much exploration of the ideas either.
All in all, it's probably a good place for people to start reading Asimov - at least, after having read some of his better short stories. Asimov isn't at his best here, but he manages to avoid being at his worst, so it gives a good, as it were diluted, feel of what the author is normally like. And it's under 200 pages.
Despite my nostalgia - this was one of my earliest adventures in reading - I really can't recommend this book very highly. It's just... not very good....moreDespite my nostalgia - this was one of my earliest adventures in reading - I really can't recommend this book very highly. It's just... not very good. In fact, it's arguably the worst book I've read in the last couple of years.
One big problem is that this is a story in its own right, AND the first part of a trilogy, AND the first of a franchise of novels, AND the first novel to introduce the pre-existing Shadowrun RPG world. As a result, sometimes it feels weighed down by exposition and sightseeing, and at other times too much is left unexplained. Worst example: the main character spends a chapter or two in a vehicle that I suspect was flying but it's never made entirely clear (or if it was, I didn't get it). I'm guessing that in Shadowrun it's made clear that 'panzers' can fly, but not having played in the setting, this confused me. [Or maybe it's just bad writing and it wasn't flying at all?]
The plot is rambling, and the pacing and structure ill-judged. Never really seems to come together, although some parts of the ending are good. The prose is not dire, but is generally uninspired, and there are some really bad moments. Character development is miniscule, character motivation almost non-existant, and the central characters are very boring.
That said, I still sort of like it. Some of the supporting cast, while shallow and static, are surprisingly vivid and engaging, and the fanstasy-cyberpunk setting - while frustratingly unexplored and never stunningly original - is appealing and sometimes intriguing.
I really wanted to like this book, and despite myself I didn't hate it. And hey, I still remembered a lot of it from my childhood, which is more than I can say for some things I read back then It's more original than a lot of pulp fantasy. It is, however, still pulp fantasy. The best I can say about it is that if you want an easy pulpy read to fill some empty time, and particularly if you want a bit of a twist from your usual D&D settings, you could do worse than this. But you'd have to WANT to enjoy it, I think - nobody's going to end up liking this book on literary grounds despite not normally liking pulp science fantasy.
A peculiar book. At first glance, a formulaic heroic fantasy is mated with a - to my eyes - rather tired and predictable broad parody of heroic fantas...moreA peculiar book. At first glance, a formulaic heroic fantasy is mated with a - to my eyes - rather tired and predictable broad parody of heroic fantasy. I mean, pretty quickly the cowardly hero discovers that the dragon he's sent to kill hoards butterflies rather than gold, and that it's desperate to be rescued from a (feisty tomboy) princess. It's the sort of comic approach that could be hilarious if it were done brilliantly, but would otherwise be very close to cringe-inducing. And unfortunately in this case it's the latter.
But then this semi-parody suddenly slams right into seriously dark bloody-gritty-bitter-grimdark territory, and it all starts to work. Green is a lot better (at least, in this volume - I've not read his other books) at the darkness than the light. And indeed, the darkness makes even the light make sense - the sillyness and irony take on a twisted, bitter edge when cast in such a dark light, and in the process become much funnier.
The result is a mostly succesful fairly dark fantasy, that is still quite formulaic, but touchingly and honestly executed, with a nice dash of humour. Most of the time. Unfortunately, sometimes the parody-sillyness seems to break the surface - and aside from me disliking it, I feel it disrupts the aesthetic harmony of the novel. In particular, some characters have to veer between being deep, intelligent and complex (in the dark, serious parts) to being drooling caricatured simpletons (in the light-hearted parts), which I didn't think worked well.
There are also complaints to be made about structure and pacing, everything feeling a bit too wild and disorganised. That, however, can perhaps be excused on grounds of inexperience - I think this was his first novel, barring one film-novelisation? Charitably, we might also blame inexperience for the rather deus-ex-machina ending and the occasional feeling of authorial railroading.
Anyway, my feelings are quite strong, but mixed. This book doesn't really know what it wants to be, so doesn't exploit its strengths as it might do. The result is something that I like in my memory a lot more than when actually reading it. Which is probably why I've not got around to reading anything else by him.
Oh, and do definitely read the first three chapters before giving up, since the first two are pretty light and (in my opinion) shallow. The third is where things start to turn darker.
Le Guin's masterpiece combines a serious sociological exploration with a tense, slow-burning, paranoid political... well, "thriller" would be misleadi...more Le Guin's masterpiece combines a serious sociological exploration with a tense, slow-burning, paranoid political... well, "thriller" would be misleading as it isn't all that thrilling, but "a novel of suspense" would be fair. With an adventure element. All told with bright clean prose and confident command of structure (the novel takes the form of first-person narrative by one character, interspersed with diary entries from another, and with a number of myths and fables and history tales).
"Quiet" is the word that springs to mind. Everything here feels like walking gently on thin ice. If it were a film it would have a lot of long scenes in which things almost happen but don't quite, and there would be no score accompanying it. That's not to say, however, that it's a boring book, or that nothing happens. There's actually quite a lot of action for its short length - it's just that the action is told in a low-key, quiet manner. It's tense, rather than explosive.
In my view it's an extremely good book, and very well-written. My only complaint would be that it's a little TOO quiet, and a little two cold - I was intrigued, even enthralled, but never viscerally enchanted.
A surprisingly peculiar book, of which I am very fond, and which I will re-read many times in the future - but probably not a very GOOD book, if we're...moreA surprisingly peculiar book, of which I am very fond, and which I will re-read many times in the future - but probably not a very GOOD book, if we're honest.
Peculiar because it is heroically uninterested in conventional plot and structure. It's a girl, in a school, going to lessons, in a fantasy world. That's pretty much it. The school is a music school, which is a big part of why I love it. Unfortunately, nothing happens, which sort of limits the excitement. And the characters are... poor, to be charitable. The main character is an unredeemed Mary Sue who is brilliant at everything she tries (but modest! OH so modest! She's the best girl in the world at being modest, nobody could possibly out-modest her!); the other 'characters' are almost all one-note clichés. If you've read, or watched, or heard of any sort of school story, you know it all, from the grumpy teachers with a heart of gold to the evil teachers who just hate Mary Sue for no reason at all (except maybe jealousy, of course), to the evil bullies (who are all cowards), to the one who pretends to go along with the bullies but actually isn't one of them after all, to the cheerful Dickensian scamps with their endearing tricks and jokes, to the mentally disabled servants, to the...
...oh, yes. The best thing about this book is the fact that one character is severely mentally disabled (a "half-wit" whose "brains are addled") - not admirable in itself, but unusual for its unmotivatedness. Camo the half-wit is not there for comic relief (he's funny sometimes, but more often painful to watch), and he's not there to make the reader sad and uncomfortable, and he's not there for any real plot reason either. In other words, he's actually a character, not just a tool in the hands of the author, which is unusual for any disabled character, let alone a mentally disabled one. The author seems just to have said "I know, I'll give one of them brain damage and see what happens" without any manipulative or exploitative intent, which I find rather admirable and original. [Your milage may vary.]
It's a YA book, and has to be, because it's too simplistic and unpolished to appeal to most adult audiences - half the reason I like it is because I'm filled with nostalgia for when I read it in my own childhood, and I think that it would be difficult for anyone to really enjoy it unless they were the sort of person who is good at summoning up their inner early-teenager.
It's the sequel to Dragonsong. Theoretically it stands apart from the main Pern novels, but that depends on the reader's tolerance of confusion. Much of the most interesting "plot" occurs off-screen, or in response to events off-screen, in other books, and I think many readers coming to this novel without knowing about the setting, and without knowing what's going on in the novels that overlap this one in the chronology, would be immensely confused. However, as both an adult and a child I've always enjoyed books that hint at a wider world, and I actually find this what's-going-on element one of the better parts of a book that I do, inescapably, feel love for, but which has, in the light of day, few redeeming features.
Not recommended for: those who want action and excitement.
China Mountain Zhang is a very peculiar novel. It is set in the China-dominated near future,...moreNot recommended for: those who want action and excitement.
China Mountain Zhang is a very peculiar novel. It is set in the China-dominated near future, showing the lives of several characters, particularly one mixed-race gay engineer. It's hard to know how to feel about it. On the one hand, it has an annoying and boring central protagonist, almost no action, little psychological insight or progression, and a setting too close to the real world to be enthralling. On the other hand, it is mostly very well written - the world and the characters are depicted sympathetically and precisely (and I could happily have read novels about some of the secondary characters, who were far more interesting than the main protagonist!). In particular it does a great job of showing a future that, on the one hand, is frankly just a little shitter than our present, but that also has - so rare in SF - the realistic feel of a world that doesn't know it's the future: a world that's still waiting for the future, still excited by its own possibilities, and dismissive of its own accomplishments.
So, on the one hand, I didn't feel that enthralled by it. On the other hand, I for some reason unknown to me kept dipping into it whenever I had a free 30 seconds - I've rarely been so dedicated to reading a book. On the one hand, it didn't leave a stunning impression on me. On the other hand, I keep thinking of it more and more fondly with hindsight.
I'd say it's a book worth reading for what it shows is possible within science fiction - but not, perhaps, a triumph in its own right. I'm certainly going to read more of her work, though.
Not very good - definitely not even the best of Pratchett's for-children writing, let alone the best of his work overall. Disappointing, as I had fond...moreNot very good - definitely not even the best of Pratchett's for-children writing, let alone the best of his work overall. Disappointing, as I had fond memories of it. That said, it's Pratchett, and it's an interesting setting, and it's not total rubbish. There's no gaping flaw, and it's quite likeable. If you're a big Pratchett fan, and you don't mind reading simplistic-and-not-always-totally-coherent books aimed at children, you may as well invest the time to read the couple of hundred pages of this. If not, there are better books.(less)