This was very good. The setup is neat, a rookie soldier who finds himself caught up in a time loop, so that every time he dies in his first battle heThis was very good. The setup is neat, a rookie soldier who finds himself caught up in a time loop, so that every time he dies in his first battle he is looped back to the following day and given a chance to try again, like a war-themed Groundhog Day. Unlike Groundhog Day though the reason for the loops is explained, and stopping them and winning the battle forms a major part of the plot. Keiji is able to turn himself into the ultimate warrior despite never having survived a battle, second only to the legendary Valkyrie when it comes to killing the deadly Mimics that threaten to wipe out all life on the planet.
The nature of the story means that the action comes quickly and constantly, Keiji trapped in an endless state of preparing for and participating in the one battle, trying and learning new things before dying and doing it all over again. It's a fast, exciting book....more
This was a very good book. Echo City, a massive city surrounded on all sides by a toxic wasteland, its only option for expansion and development beingThis was a very good book. Echo City, a massive city surrounded on all sides by a toxic wasteland, its only option for expansion and development being to build on top of the old city, abandoning the lower layers as lost 'echoes' of the city it is now, is a great setting. The complex modern politics, the abandoned lower layers of the city (possibly populated by phantoms and monsters) and the mysterious, arcane Bakers feel like they could support a dozen different stories.
This book focuses on a time of great change though, when a man walks into the city from the wasteland, an impossible feat, and becomes a key part in events that could bring about the city's doom or its rebirth. Caught up in his wake are a collection of strong characters, all broken but all driven to see their goals through to the end, whatever the cost, and with the entire city at stake those costs are incredibly high....more
I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example—I wonder—could you tell
I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example—I wonder—could you tell my jumbled story in exactly one hundred chapters, not one more, not one less?
Pi's story does indeed play out in a hundred chapters, but only through some small element of cheating. Several chapters are just a couple of paragraphs long. One is just two words. Chapter breaks come almost arbitrarily, the next chapter continuing on the same subject. Across thirteen chapters Pi embraces Hinduism, Catholicism and Islam, reflects upon the nature of the divine, how atheists and agnostics view the world, the reaction when it was discovered he was following three separate religions, his request to continue with multiple religions, his parents' verdict, and the result of that verdict. It's not really thirteen chapters' worth of story.
It sounds like a small complaint and in many ways it is, but I like my chapters to be meaty chunks of narrative that advance the story, so for me the book had a very stop-start feel to it, chapters not providing that break or advancement that I expected. It was only upon reading the above quote, which comes right near the end of the book, that the reason for that structure was explained, though I didn't feel it was justified for that.
Niggling issues with structure aside, The Life of Pi is presented as the autobiographical account of the fictional and extraordinary Piscine Molitor Patel. It opens with his early life in India as the son of a zookeeper, detailing what he learns about people, animals and faith, before the political situation encourages his family to take their animals across the Pacific and into Canada. The bulk of the story focuses on Pi being cast away on a lifeboat with only the tiger Richard Parker for company, and the highs and lows that come from a journey that ends with him being the longest-surviving person ever to be shipwrecked.
I was so full of trust in them that I felt grateful as they carried me in the air. Only when they threw me overboard did I begin to have doubts.
That latter fact is revealed early on, there's no mystery to whether Pi survives. The story is Pi's account of that survival, told years later with all the comfort that distance provides. Pi's funny, conversational, easy-going style keeps it from being a harrowing tale of his ordeal, for that's not the aim. It's a story of hope, of perseverance, of companionship in hard times, of finding beauty in the darkest moments, and of faith.
Faith is of particular importance to Pi, whose love of his god is so great that he can't even contain himself to one religion. As an atheist myself I inevitably bounced off a lot of these moments, especially when Pi tries to explain atheism and agnosticism and gets them wrong. Pi's experiences on the lifeboat contain more suffering that most people will experience in a lifetime, and at no time does his god provide any relief. At one low point in his ordeal Pi even says:
But God’s hat was always unravelling. God’s pants were falling apart. God’s cat was a constant danger. God’s ark was a jail. God’s wide acres were slowly killing me. God’s ear didn't seem to be listening. Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression.
It seems like he could be just about to make the obvious next conclusion, that God's ear no more exists than the rest of God, but then the above sentences are immediately followed with:
I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reknotted. Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving.
There's nothing wrong with finding comfort in anything you can, of course, not when the situation is so dire, I just found it disappointing that Pi repeatedly took paths that I not only view as wrong, but genuinely beyond my comprehension. Pi's position is that truth is ultimately irrelevant if the outcome is the same, and it's better then to believe beautiful, comforting lies than just accept reality for all it's mix of beauty of ugliness.
Pi's faith is nothing to condemn him for though, and doesn't in any way detract from the fact that he's an incredible human being. Dumped into one of the worst situations imaginable, he embarks on an epic journey of survival, soldiers on where others would disappear into despair, and lives to tell a unique, funny, moving and memorable story.
Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem.
Ringil Eskiath is one of my favourite characters in all fiction.
In the previous book, The Steel Remains, he was a jaded war hero without a cause, tryiRingil Eskiath is one of my favourite characters in all fiction.
In the previous book, The Steel Remains, he was a jaded war hero without a cause, trying to content himself by trading on past glories and bedding any man he could convince to let him do so, until he was recruited into a quest that required his particular skills. The events of that quest left him hollowed out and broken in spite of his victory, and with a hatred of slavery being just about the only thing he is still passionate about.
By the time The Cold Commands begins he has made an enemy of just about every slaver in the Empire and is running out of places to hide, while also having attracted the attention of dark powers he doesn't understand and doesn't much care about either. He ends up back in Yhelteth, home of the other two main characters of each book, fellow war heroes Archeth Indamaninarmal and Egar Dragonbane.
However, they both have problems of their own. Egar is sexually and spiritually frustrated, unable to be with the woman he loves and with no purpose in life beyond harassing the local religious zealots. Archeth has received a dire warning of an imminent threat that could bring down the whole Empire, and has to convince the Emperor to launch a major expedition to a place that may not even exist, while also trying to manage Egar's frustrations and Ringil's lack of tact or respect for the machinations of empire.
At first it seems like it's Archeth's expedition that would be the core of the story, but her plans are overshadowed completely by Ringil and Egar, who manage to upset the tentative balance that is just about keeping the city and the nation from erupting into civil war. In the process they uncover a grave threat much closer to home, and that again needs somebody like Ringil to try and put a stop to it.
More so even than Takeshi Kovacs, main character of Richard Morgan's brilliant sci-fi trilogy, Ringil is a broken, disillusioned man who knows that his actions won't much matter in the long run. Like Kovacs though he still tries and he still fights, because what else is there? As long as he's still alive he's going to do his damnedest to be an obstacle to anybody who deserves to have their plans thwarted, who seeks to take advantage of people or start a war, because that's what heroes do. It's cost him every part of himself, he no longer cares about much of anything at all, but he's still a hero and he's a fantastic character for it....more
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is set in the future, close enough to be recognisable but distant enough for technology to have transformed society.Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is set in the future, close enough to be recognisable but distant enough for technology to have transformed society. People can be backed-up and restored in the event of death, medical problems or even just to clear their consciences (the process carrying none of the weight of something like Altered Carbon, which had a similar concept). Money has been done away with, replaced with Wuffie, a score that represents how well regarded you are by the people around you. Perform a good service, people think highly of you and you gain Wuffie, and even something like being a good friend can increase your score. Generating Wuffie becomes a goal, but not in a negative way. In a Wuffie-based society making people happy and ensuring they have a good time is something people base their actions upon, and by and large the system works.
The story centres around Julius, a man who has lived just over a century and reinvented himself a couple of times when his Wuffie score has crashed or because he was just tired of his current life. As the story begins he's started over again in Disneyland, where each ride is maintained by an 'ad-hoc', a group of people who devote their time to improving and maintaining the ride, making sure guests have a good time and generating plenty of Wuffie for all involved. Julius has his young girlfriend Lil, his good friend Dan, and he has a blast performing in the Haunted Mansion ride.
Then he's killed, and upon restoration discovers that a new group has moved into the Hall of Presidents and taken over, replacing a lot of the physical elements with a mental broadcast that flashes the life of each president into the minds of the guests. Julius is convinced that this new group had him killed so that they could move in during the confusion, and he sets about improving the Mansion in radical ways to try and ensure that they won't be able to muscle in there too.
Julius' arc didn't play out in the way I expected, which is always a nice surprise. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a short book with some interesting ideas. I didn't find myself as drawn into this as I was with the other Doctorow book I've read, Little Brother, but it wasn't bad....more
Spread across two different time periods, the second world war and a present-day setting in line with the book's release in the late nineties, CryptonSpread across two different time periods, the second world war and a present-day setting in line with the book's release in the late nineties, Cryptonomicon is a fictionalised history of cryptography and also a modern techno-thriller. It's told primarily from the viewpoints of four characters:
1) Lawrence Waterhouse - A genius cryptographer with a knack for spotting patterns, who attended university with Alan Turing shortly before the second world war. When the Enigma code is cracked Lawrence's main occupation is creating plausible reasons for why the British are able to anticipate the Nazi's every move without revealing that they've cracked the code. He is almost incapable of viewing anything without breaking it down into patterns and systems, a unique approach that makes for some excellent chapters, with Lawrence's decision that he needs to seduce and marry a specific woman based on how thoughts of her are impacting his work being a particular highlight.
2) Bobby Shaftoe - A former Marine in the second world war, left psychologically damaged by a major traumatic incident that leaves him unhinged enough to be the perfect man to carry out Lawrence's plans. He is sent on bizarre missions deep into enemy territory that seemingly undermine the Allies or otherwise make no sense at all, but carries them all out without question. At one point his team smuggles barrels and crates full of waste - used cigarettes, old newspapers and even faecal matter - to an isolated building in Italy, so they can give the impression that spies have been there for months. The sheer insanity of the tasks he is assigned make for some of the more hilarious moments in the book.
3) Goto Dengo - An Imperial Soldier in the Japanese army during the second world war, who befriends Bobby after they get into a fight. He undergoes a major crisis of faith when he realises the undefeatable imperial army is losing the war, and his shock that the Americans would identify their weaknesses and find solutions is a wonderful moment. His is mostly a sad story due to his belief that his lack of faith in the Empire is a personal flaw, and after his unit is defeated he becomes so lost as he tries to find purpose again, before being assigned to a secret project that he doesn't expect to survive.
4) Randy Waterhouse - The sole present-day main character, a talented programmer in several communications and internet projects around the Phillipines. His storyline draws upon all the others, connected through their descendants (Randy himself being Lawrence's grandson), their friends and colleagues, or building upon their work. Aside from Goto he is the one who was most sure about his place in the world and his potential, only to have most of those preconceptions demonstrated to be spectacularly wrong. Where Goto is almost destroyed by this change Randy embraces it, finding he didn't care about those things as much as he thought it did and welcoming the new choices available to him.
With multiple characters there's always a danger that some will be considerably better than others, making a switch away from them frustrating, or creating a sense that the plot is dragging from the need to tell four largely separate stories at once. I never had that sense with Cryptonomicon. There was a little disappointment most times a character's chapter came to an end, but that would be prove true with the next character, and on and on. All four characters are excellent, and those are only the viewpoint ones, as each is supported by an abundance of great characters.
It's a surprisingly funny book and made me laugh out loud plenty of times. It's also incredibly well written at points, as there were many times where I was genuinely impressed with what I'd just read and wanted to save those excerpts. Paragraphs like a description of the human body or the depression of the natives of Finland are either just marvellously written or also very funny. Even when Stephenson moves into detailed technical explanations of cryptographic concepts it's still interesting. Cryptonomicon is a long book but is never dull, telling a fascinating story (or even multiple fascinating stories) with lots of excellent characters. I really enjoyed it....more