Phew! I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end of "The Centauri Device." Some stunning writing in places, but boy is is densely-described, mean...morePhew! I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end of "The Centauri Device." Some stunning writing in places, but boy is is densely-described, meanderingly-metaphorised and overly-populated with peculiarly-named characters! More thoughts to follow when I’ve recovered.(less)
The easiest way to describe this book is as Nineteen Eighty-Four for children, but that would be selling it short. Although written for children, this...moreThe easiest way to describe this book is as Nineteen Eighty-Four for children, but that would be selling it short. Although written for children, this book easily engaged me. Jonas is a likeable character, and I couldn't help rooting for him.
One of the rules of the community in which Jonas lives is that all members should speak with a 'precision of language'. This precision of language is refected in the tight, spare prose used to tell the story. Not a word is wasted, and it is a delight to read. The images evoked are vivid and the weirdness of a near-emotion-free community is quite unnerving at times, as is the whole idea of Sameness. The story made me grateful for all the freedom of choice I have, even taking into account all the pain and suffering that can come with it. A world without choice, without colour, without music, without love would not be a world that I would want to live in.
I'll be keeping this book on my bookshelf so that I can pass it to my own children, both for their enjoyment and their education. (less)
I was a huge fan of Anne McCaffrey in my teens; I read all her series except the Planet Pirate books, so when I saw this book in a charity shop a coup...moreI was a huge fan of Anne McCaffrey in my teens; I read all her series except the Planet Pirate books, so when I saw this book in a charity shop a couple of months ago, I decided it was time to relive my youth and discover what I’d missed.
What a dissapointment! All the passion and excitement I remembered from her other works was absent in this one. The characters lacked depth, and generated no sympathy in me. The plot was far too fast; the first half of the book covers about 40 years and some major life events that would have been worthy of a whole book themselves. In the second half of the book, I kept thinking I’d missed whole passages because at times I didn’t have a clue who people were or what was happening. The ending also involved one of the worst cases of deus ex machina I’ve ever read.
I’ve been thinking about rereading the Dragon Riders of Pern books, but I don’t think I will now. I’d rather remember them as I remember them.(less)
I wanted to enjoy this book so much more than I did. Having read two other ‘Culture’ novels, I had high hopes for this one, but it simply didn’t deliv...moreI wanted to enjoy this book so much more than I did. Having read two other ‘Culture’ novels, I had high hopes for this one, but it simply didn’t deliver. The twists and turns were unsurprising, and the game around which the book centred was insufficiently explained, meaning the narrator had to tell the reader when things were becoming exciting or that clever moves were being made. I would much rather have had enough information to figure that out for myself. And don’t get me started on the clunky sentence structure and adverb abuse!
A clever idea, poorly and predictably executed.(less)
I first read this book in my teens, and remember thinking it was wonderful. I've decided to re-read it again (twenty-something years later) to see wha...moreI first read this book in my teens, and remember thinking it was wonderful. I've decided to re-read it again (twenty-something years later) to see what I make of it now. Review to follow.
Update: I've just finished this re-read and, once more, I am blown away. There's so much to praise about this book - the story, the writing, the characters, the themes of nature vs. nurture, femininity vs. masculinity etc - but it's the irony that's sticking with me at the moment: In an attempt to breed out violence and the (supposed) male tendency to wage war, the (morally corrupt?) women end up sending their men to war.
It's the kind of book that fills my head with questions and leaves me pondering the answers.(less)
I remember reading this in my teens because I had a huge crush on Han Solo. Having recently spotted it on a shelf in a second-hand bookshop I decided...moreI remember reading this in my teens because I had a huge crush on Han Solo. Having recently spotted it on a shelf in a second-hand bookshop I decided to buy it and reread it, just to relive those heady teenage days. What a disappointment. I ended up putting it in the recycling after only 150 pages. What the author did to Leia and Han's characters was unforgivable!(less)
A thoroughly enjoyable page-turner. Although it was slightly predictable in places, the confidence of the narrative voice completely made up for it. A...moreA thoroughly enjoyable page-turner. Although it was slightly predictable in places, the confidence of the narrative voice completely made up for it. At times it reminded me of Star Wars, at other times, Stardust (by Neil Gaiman) and all the way through I kept thinking 'This would make a great movie!' I thought the main characters were interesting, likeable and well-rounded, and some of the writing was inspirational, especially the use of metaphor and simile in the descriptions of places and actions. As a story, it mesmerised me, exploring some big themes (such as love, terrorism/freedom fighting and environmental issues) without bashing me over the head with the author's opinions. My children are too young for this book at the moment, but I will be keeping it so that I can pass it on to them when they're ready. Oh ... and I've ordered the other three books in the series. I know this are classified as YA (and there's no way I could be described as young anymore), but I'll never be too old for good writing and storytelling.(less)
It took me longer to read this little book than I expected it would because I found it hard to concentrate on the story. There's an odd superficiality...moreIt took me longer to read this little book than I expected it would because I found it hard to concentrate on the story. There's an odd superficiality and matter-of-factness to the writing which made it difficult for me to connect with the characters - especially Meg, who I found quite disagreeable at times. Overall, I found the book interesting, but I'm left wondering what it was all about. There seem to be a lot of themes in this book! I also found the use of bible quotes a bit heavy-handed and rather strange; they seemed to come out of nowhere and then disappeared again.(less)
There are some stories in the collection that I just didn't understand, but they were few and far between. The rest cleverly and subtly illustrate the...moreThere are some stories in the collection that I just didn't understand, but they were few and far between. The rest cleverly and subtly illustrate the idea that we are all freaks to some extent, and that we all have a 'superpower'. We might not be able to fly, but if you squint, you'll see there is something 'super' about the most ordinary of us; it's all about perception. That might sound a bit fluffy, but that's not the way this collection is written. It's more gritty than fluffy. It doesn't shy away from uncomfortable subjects. To coin a phrase: 'it pulls no punches'. The subject matter, the language and even the illustrations (which are breathtaking) are rather adult in nature. Best read with an open-minded.(less)
Firefly and Serenity are my all-time favourite Sci-Fi tv show & movie, so I was hoping the novelisation of the film might at least be an enjoyable...moreFirefly and Serenity are my all-time favourite Sci-Fi tv show & movie, so I was hoping the novelisation of the film might at least be an enjoyable read. Disappointed isn't the word for it. I gave up on page 82. I know it's probably tough to weave backstory from a tv show into the novelisation of a movie, but it was so stilted and drawn-out that it arrested the flow of the story. Although the dialogue was brilliant - well it would be as it was from the film - the attempt to mimic it in the narrative was painful to read. Not to mention the actual bad grammar in places where there was no call for it. What really spoiled it for me, though, was the lack of emotional depth or any exploration of character. I've read better fan fiction. This read like a book aimed at preteens. When will someone write a novelisation for grownups? They should have asked Steven Brust to write this book. His Firefly novel (My Own Kind of Freedom) is perfect!(less)
One Saturday afternoon, when I was about twelve years old, my dad put a tape in our VCR and pressed play. After the pounding of the 20th Ce...more4.5/5 stars
One Saturday afternoon, when I was about twelve years old, my dad put a tape in our VCR and pressed play. After the pounding of the 20th Century Fox drums had faded, there was a quiet pause followed by a second dramatic fanfare. (Even now, nearly thirty years later, the sound of it makes my insides tickle with anticipation!) As the trumpets trumpeted, little blue words appeared on a space-blackened screen: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … And thus began my love affair with Space Opera.
Star Wars led me to Star Trek, which, if we we'd been good, we were allowed to watch on the black-and-white telly in the dining room while we ate our dinner on a Friday night. After that came, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Blake Seven, Stargate, Farscape, Andromeda and Firefly. I haven't just watched Space Opera, though, I've read it too: Anne McCaffrey, Iain M. Banks, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven, M. John Harrison to name but a few of the authors who have graced my shelves over the years. There's just something about the adventure of it all, the battles of good against evil, the people, the places, the romance …
Which brings me to how I came to read this book. I wanted to read a Space Opera that had a good measure of romance in it. Something epic and solidly sciency, but in which the characters fall in and out of love like normal people do. If you google 'science fiction romance' you are presented with lists of books where the SF is just a backdrop for sex. The covers depict strong, bare-chested men holding impossibly-curvy, swooning women in their bulgingly-bicepy arms. Not my cup of klah. I wanted a story where the romance was a subplot … you know, like Han and Leia's, Malcolm Reynolds and Inara Serra's, John Crichton and Aeryn Sun's. Anyway, after a lot more googling, I came up with a recommendation for this book by Ursula K. Le Guin. I've read and enjoyed a few of hers, but hadn't come across this one. I'm so glad I did, though, because not only is it packed with solid science, and not only is there a hefty dose of … I wouldn't call it romance; maybe 'relationships' is a better term, like all good SF it holds a mirror up to humanity and makes it take a long, hard look at itself.
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories is a collection of eight short stories set in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle universe. The individual stories are each set in a different society within that universe and explore the cultural norms and issues relating mainly to relationships, sex, sexuality and gender.
Coming of Age in Karhide is about a young Gethenian who is approaching puberty. Gethenians are hermaphroditic and androgynous for most of the time, except during periods called Kemmer, when they morph into either males or females in order to mate. A fascinating (and graphic) look at how we view people though the lens of gender.
The Matter of Seggri is set on a world where the number of women in six-times greater than the number of men. Women live in medieval-style villages, while the men live in garrison-like castles. At first it appears as if the men have the better life – the women do all the work and provide the castles with all that they need; the men entertain themselves with games and competition and leave their castles only to have sex – but it soon emerges that things are, as they say, not quite as they seem. Again, a fascinating look at gender roles.
Unchosen Love starts with the words “Sex, for everybody, on every world, is a complicated business, but nobody seems to have complicated marriage quite as much as my people have.” On Planet O, there are four types of people: Morning women, Morning men, Evening women and Evening men, and a marriage is made up of all four. This story and the next, Mountain Ways, shine a light on love and marriage by showing us it's intricacies, issues and how it does and doesn't work on Planet O.
In Solitude we meet the daughter of a scientist who takes her children to live amongst the people of Eleven-Soro in order to observe their culture. Women live in villages called 'auntrings' and keep themselves to themselves, while men live hermit-like in the forests around the auntrings, the two only coming together to mate. The world is post-apocalyptic and you get the feeling that this segregation is society's way of avoiding the critical population mass and magic (technology) that they believe caused the disaster, a belief which the daughter comes to adhere to as she grows up amongst the people her mother is observing.
Old Music and the Slave Woman is a sad story about freedom and justice in a world divided by civil war.
The Birthday of the World tells of a ruling family who believe they are Gods, but who end up questioning that belief when a prophecy appears to come true.
Paradise Lost is the tale of the fifth generation of passengers born aboard a long-range spaceship who eventually discover that they are going to reach their destination (an earth-like planet) forty years ahead of schedule. Over the years they've been travelling, a new mythology has evolved aboard the ship which comes into conflict with the ship's original purpose. It makes the reader ask, “What's more important, the journey or the destination?”
It was a bit of a mixed bag as far as holding my interest goes. I couldn't put down Coming of Age in Karhide, The Matter of Seggri, Unchosen Love, Mountain Ways or Solitude, but I had to force myself to finish Old Music and the Slave Woman and The Birthday of the World. They were a bit slow and trudgy. By far the best (and longest) story, though, was Paradise Lost. Utterly gripping.
So, this book has got it all - solid science, adventure and alien societies, space-age ships and technologies, romance, relationships and religions - and it's all written in Le Guin's confident, intelligent style that forces you to think beyond the words on the page, but the stories in this book have not satisfied my hunger for Space Opera; they have just increased it.
On a side note, perhaps the most inspiring part of this book for me as a writer, was the foreword written by Le Guin herself, in which she shares her writing process. It seems that for her, writing a story is a voyage of discovery. Sometimes she doesn't understand where a story is going. Sometimes bits of myth and legend pop into her head. Sometimes she just listens to the people who populate her worlds and lets their voices take over. I've often wondered if I should plan out my longer stories more, but reading about how Le Guin writes has given me a bit more confidence to follow my instincts and carry on writing by the seat of my pants.(less)