My first Charles de Lint! I'll call it a three, but really it's islands of five floating in a sea of two, if that makes any sense. Some moments of amaMy first Charles de Lint! I'll call it a three, but really it's islands of five floating in a sea of two, if that makes any sense. Some moments of amazing beauty and emotion, and a sense of real wonder, held back by some slow pacing and characters who did annoyingly irrational things. I wonder if both those perceived flaws were due to this book being fairly early in his career. I'm definitely in the market to read more de Lint, but I think I'll be moving from this one to his more recent work, rather than backwards to his earlier....more
This little novella is the "coda" to Beagle's masterpiece The Last Unicorn, and while it came out over three decades later, I just finished reading thThis little novella is the "coda" to Beagle's masterpiece The Last Unicorn, and while it came out over three decades later, I just finished reading the two of them for the first time, back to back.
It's a lovely story, told by the protagonist, a nine-year old girl named Sooz. It trades the overwhelming power of the prose in The Last Unicorn for a smaller, more humble narrative voice that, while not quite as spellbinding, is still charming and memorable. Sooz herself is clever, brave and spunky, and Beagle manages to paint her as such with admirably few brush strokes. All our best (surviving) friends from The Last Unicorn appear, and the story line is laid to rest in a beautifully bittersweet manner. The end.
The book itself is much more of a straightforward adventure story/fairy tale than its predecessor; there's none of the self-referential, winking, anachronistic humor here. As a completely different look at the world of The Last Unicorn - different time, different perspective, same people and places - it was fascinating. It shows Peter S. Beagle's world to be a place that might have unlimited stories in it, the same way Middle Earth seems to....more
Wow. WOW. I had no idea. My head is spinning a little.
I'm trying to restrain myself from gushing with superlatives here, and failing. Best book I've rWow. WOW. I had no idea. My head is spinning a little.
I'm trying to restrain myself from gushing with superlatives here, and failing. Best book I've read for the first time in the past year. Best modern fairy tale I've ever read. One of the best fantasy books I've read, period.
I was of course already very familiar with the 1980s animated film version of this book, and have loved it since I was a kid (in spite of the cheesy America soundtrack). I'd been meaning to read the book for decades, and when it came up as part of the second Humble Ebook bundle, all of a sudden it was easy, which is usually the way I actually get around to doing things.
I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this book. Certainly, I expected to enjoy it - I don't go out of my way to read lousy books - but I don't think I expected to be blown away, and blown away I was. You know that feeling you get when you begin to read a new book, and somewhere in the first page or three you have to catch your breath, because you realize you've been holding it? This book gave me that spellbound feeling, and it's largely thanks to Beagle's command of language. The prose here is gorgeous: without being overtly flowery or poetic, it simply flows, and overflows with power. Description is vivid and lovely, dialogue is natural and riveting, and Beagle has a knack for dropping made-up words, or "wrong" words, in such a way that they make sense and are all of a sudden the perfect, the only word for the occasion. The only other author I can think of right now with a similar touch is Neil Gaiman - though, of course, Peter S. Beagle came first, and the influence is apparent.
And speaking of Gaiman, this book is the same kind of smart, humorously self-aware modern take on the classic fairy tale as his excellent Stardust (among others of his work) or William Goldman's The Princess Bride. In fact, in terms of tone I'd kind of place it between the two: less winking than Goldman, less straightly played than Gaiman, but superior to either of them - and that's saying a lot, as I adore both of those books. Maybe superior isn't the word for it so much as greater, because beyond merely being an enchanting and entertaining story, The Last Unicorn succeeds as a deep and timeless fable about death, change, love, faith, dreams and courage.
This book was simply a delight - even knowing from the beginning what was going to happen (and the film hews pretty much exactly to the book, right down to the dialogue), I found myself eagerly turning (well, swiping) the pages. The Last Unicorn is jammed with so many humorous, unexpected, and wise turns of phrase that I gave up on highlighting passages about halfway through. I laughed, I cried, I finished and was delighted to find out there's a sequel (and that I'd already bought it without knowing). Five stars and my highest possible recommendation for this book, whether you like fantasy or not....more
I would have enjoyed this book much more if I had not come to it expecting a Neal Stephenson book. It has none of Stephenson's gonzo over-the-top-nessI would have enjoyed this book much more if I had not come to it expecting a Neal Stephenson book. It has none of Stephenson's gonzo over-the-top-ness, nor his didacticism; none of his manic rambles, twenty-page asides, or enormous math-based research dumps. It has precious little of his trademark humor and gleeful geekery. In fact, the only real Stephenson trademark in evidence here is an abundance of hypercompetent badasses doing their thing - here it's alchemists and swordfighters rather than hackers or codebreakers, but it's very much the same feel.
However, those complaints aside, this was still a fun story, full of action, and I'll probably read the next book in the series....more
I'm conflicted on this one. On the one hand, it was lovely to dip my feet back into the bizarre, surreal, yet instantly-familiar realm of Mid-World. II'm conflicted on this one. On the one hand, it was lovely to dip my feet back into the bizarre, surreal, yet instantly-familiar realm of Mid-World. It's also amusing to see King continue to give shout-outs to other authors' works in the Dark Tower series. On top of such earlier references as Aslan and golden "Sneetches," it's obvious that Steve has been reading some George R.R. Martin; how better to say "winter is coming" than with a starkblast? Rather than plagiarism, homage, or mere toadying to his author friends, these little name-drops always give me the impression that I'm never closer to seeing the unfiltered, uncensored landscape of King's subconscious as when I'm reading one of the Dark Tower books. And, as always, King is an effortlessly engaging writer: funny, scary, tender, sexy, or gross, as the situation requires. King could write a three-star (three stars from me, anyway) book in his sleep.
Which it kind of feels as if he did, in this case. This book feels...hastily done, and not just because it's short. I was excited once I realized it was a flashback story, since Wizard and Glass is my favorite book in the series and one of my favorite Stephen King books, period. However, the intriguing, Inception-esque story within a story within a story premise fails, to me at least, because it feels as though he breaks voice repeatedly. The narration is not convincingly Roland - neither the old-Roland story nor the young-Roland one.
Nonetheless, still a very enjoyable story, and I'll take more Dark Tower any way I can get it....more
OK, I give up…(checking)…81% of the way through. Bag this book.
I grabbed Princess of Mars on Gutenberg.org, because it was in the Top Downloads chart,OK, I give up…(checking)…81% of the way through. Bag this book.
I grabbed Princess of Mars on Gutenberg.org, because it was in the Top Downloads chart, and because I’d never read any Burroughs before. (I realized a day or two later that it was being downloaded heavily because there’s a film adaptation out now.)
Having recently read a ton of fiction from the century spanning roughly 1820-1920, including a lot of pioneering science fiction, and having enjoyed most of it, I expected about the same from Princess of Mars: an enjoyable story rich with references to its time, probably loaded with amusingly quaint touches like hokey science and corny dialogue. And it didn’t disappoint on the “hokey” front, what with the chariot-riding, pistol toting Martians and all. But it failed to grab me, and ultimately I bogged down out of sheer boredom. It read almost like a (mediocre) Western novel in which the places and people had been hastily switched at the last minute to create a “Martian” setting. (I understand this was not the case, just saying that’s how it felt.) I can definitely tell this stuff must have been an influence on L. Ron Hubbard.
Having given this book an honest try, I don’t think I’ll be finishing it, let alone picking up one of the apparently 317 sequels. If I want my old-school fix, I’ll stick to Wells-Verne-Stevenson-Stoker and company. ...more
What an odd experience, reading this book. It was unmistakably King: never having read any Peter Straub, I might not be able to identify his influenceWhat an odd experience, reading this book. It was unmistakably King: never having read any Peter Straub, I might not be able to identify his influence here anyway, but this book felt just like every other Stephen King book.
And, incidentally, "just like every other Stephen King book" is how I would describe The Talisman's plot. This novel is like a shambling Frankenstein's monster, rudely stitched together out of concepts and plot points from the rest of King's oeuvre. From the Shining-esque beginning, with the family holed up in the deserted off-season resort hotel and the mysterious old black man who seems to know something special about the kid; to the interminable, dimension-hopping road trip second act, reminiscent of The Stand; to the here-at-the-nexus-of-all-possible-worlds climax (which almost feels like King taking an early dry run at the apocalyptic end of The Dark Tower), almost everything here felt familiar. Throw in another few of his favorite themes - childhood friendship overcoming horrible supernatural menace, crazy evil religious nutcases, etc. - and the King grab bag is complete.
An exciting read while it lasted, except in the places where it was overlong, but nothing to hook me into reading the rest of the (trilogy?) series....more
Whenever I read sword-and-sorcery fantasy, I expect a certain amount of borrowing from Tolkien. And that's fine with me, as not only did Tolkien do aWhenever I read sword-and-sorcery fantasy, I expect a certain amount of borrowing from Tolkien. And that's fine with me, as not only did Tolkien do a pretty amazing job, rich with things worth borrowing, but he himself borrowed liberally from those who came before.
But the amount of larceny that goes on in this book was simply beyond anything I could have anticipated. I went from surprised, to irritated, beyond irritation and into amusement at the endless cavalcade of characters, places, objects, and situations so obviously lifted from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The amusement finally came in the form of a grin at Jordan's sheer chutzpah, as he could not have written this book if he gave even the slightest damn whether anyone noticed how badly he was ripping off Tolkien. It's as though Robert Jordan was saying to me, "Yep, I'm going to write a fantasy book, virtually everything in it will be a thinly veiled analogue of something from Middle Earth, and by the end, you won't even care because the story is going to be that freaking cool."
And you know what? He was right. After a slightly slow start, it turned into a fun story and interesting world, and I'm certainly hooked enough to dig into the rest of the huge series....more
I somewhat lazily and arbitrarily clicked this book onto my "science fiction" Goodreads shelf, but it isn't, not really. Sure, the monsters happened tI somewhat lazily and arbitrarily clicked this book onto my "science fiction" Goodreads shelf, but it isn't, not really. Sure, the monsters happened to come from Mars, but that isn't essential to the plot. They could just as easily have come from deep under the ground, from the bottom of the ocean, or from Mordor. All the story requires is that they be from Somewhere Else, and Mars fills that bill perfectly well.
So, leaving aside the creatures' extraterrestrial origins, War of the Worlds succeeds on several levels. For one, it's one of the most gripping and legitimately frightening horror stories to come out of the 19th century; the intelligent, but overwhelmed and slightly unreliable narrator gives a desperate, panicky edge to the story. This suits the material perfectly: if you propose to chronicle the end of the world, a little panic goes a long way towards selling it.
The story also succeeds as an ecological fable. As the story repeatedly compares the Martian invaders to humans as humans would be to rabbits or ants, the usual human view of the world as a pyramid with ourselves at the top is thrown into a new light. This is typical of Wells, as The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau are also thinly veiled parables about the philosophical issues of his day. The difference is that, unlike the class warfare fable of The Time Machine, or The Island of Dr. Moreau's exploration of evolution and what makes humans human, War of the Worlds's message still seems relevant today.
For my money, this is H.G. Wells' best story, or at least the one that's aged the best. I was surprised at what an enjoyable and thought-provoking book this was - far better than any subsequent adaptations I've seen or heard. Accept no substitutes!...more
As I finish this trilogy, I feel like addressing this book on two levels: first, on its own strengths and weaknesses as a novel; and second, as the caAs I finish this trilogy, I feel like addressing this book on two levels: first, on its own strengths and weaknesses as a novel; and second, as the capstone of the series and as an exposition of the Mistborn world and mythology. I’ll start with the latter of the two.
The overwhelming impression I get from the Mistborn books is that they have been written by someone who is a fantasy fan first, a fantasy author second. A pedantic geek, if you will. And I mean all of this as the highest praise – Sanderson clearly has a fanboy’s love of internal consistency, and distaste for discontinuity, and is writing the kind of books that he would like to read. In essence, he is both the author, and the slightly Asperger-y fan at the fantasy convention asking that author some annoyingly penetrating questions. This is a man with a proper appreciation for words like canon and retcon.
Because of these qualities, Sanderson is without a doubt the most consistent, airtight world-builder I have ever read. As the series builds, slowly revealing more and more of the world, the various types of magic, and the overarching mythology, everything snaps into place perfectly. And what’s more, it becomes obvious that everything has been perfectly laid out behind the scenes from the very start. Completely absent is any feeling that the author was making things up as he went along; I never once found myself having that “Sure Luke and Leia were always supposed to be siblings, George” feeling, nor even that “You know, Jo, when Hagrid got out of Azkaban prison at the end of your second book, he acted as though it was no big deal” feeling.
And this is great for me, because I’m a pedantic geek myself when I read fantasy and sci-fi; it’s naturally difficult for me to suspend disbelief, and I’m constantly mentally peeking around corners and poking at curtains. And here, in the place of that nagging skepticism was an actual sense of wonder, as every big reveal sent me scrambling back mentally, trying to figure out how I didn’t see that coming. This is definitely a series that would reward a second reading. (That Sanderson was the one tapped to finish the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series now makes all kinds of sense, as he is pretty much an iron-clad guarantee that fans of that famously deep and involved fantasy universe will not be disappointed.)
What’s better is that this magnificent world is paired with an excellent story. There’s little of the slow (though, in retrospect, necessary) build that made up much of the first part of the first book. Instead, The Hero of Ages comes out guns blazing (not literally, though firearms are mentioned in passing). The plot is fast-moving, yet everything builds towards a monstrous climax that ends up taking up the last full quarter of the book. The resolution of the plot is mind-blowing, moving, satisfying, and it ties the entire three-book story up elegantly. It’s impressive that Brandon Sanderson can put this neat a bow on such an epic tale, when far more experienced writers like Neal Stephenson and Stephen King still occasionally hit-or-miss.
It seems to me that Sanderson improved as a writer over the course of this series – unsurprising, given how young, prolific, and obviously dedicated to the craft he is. That is not to imply he’s a great writer just yet, as his chops continue to catch up to his impressive imagination. There are still some jarring lexical choices: words like guy and tsunami, and terms like “hat trick,” feel out of place even in the context of Sanderson’s straightforward modern American English. And dialogue is still not a strong point; group conversations in particular still come off kind of stilted and awkward. But there is obvious, measurable improvement in the writing from the first book to the third in this series, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Sanderson’s work.
Postscript: Wow, I'm surprised by the number of "likes" on this review. If you enjoyed it, please feel free to check out my reviews of the first and second books in the trilogy. Cheers!...more
A solid step forward from the cool-but-flawed first book in the Mistborn series. A few observations, in bullet point form, since I'm too lazy to writeA solid step forward from the cool-but-flawed first book in the Mistborn series. A few observations, in bullet point form, since I'm too lazy to write coherent paragraphs today:
- There's no slow start here, as the book begins kicking ass immediately. Sanderson pays you, the reader, the compliment of assuming you've read the first book, and there's little time spent in review. As a result, this book grabs you quickly and doesn't let go.
- Sanderson definitely opens his vocabulary up a bit more in this book. The writing is still direct and straightforward, which plays well to his strengths as a writer of exciting, fast-moving stories, but he's being a little more elaborate and playful with the language here. I enjoyed the change.
- Having said that, there's a nails-on-chalkboard word choice in this book just as there was in the first. In Mistborn: The Final Empire, it was the overuse of the word maladroit. In this one, it's that Sanderson repeatedly (as in, at least a half-dozen times) says "parlay" when he means "parley," in the sense of talk or negotiate. Maybe he wrote this book while placing bets at the horse track...
- The dialogue is a lot smoother and more relaxed here than in the first book, not only getting the point across, but giving characters recognizable individual voices. Most of the conversations involving Sazed, in particular, are excellent.
- This is part of an overall improvement in character development. Characters from the first book seem to be deepening and settling into their roles here, and newly introduced characters, whether likable or not, are all compelling and believable.
- The setting continues to distinguish itself from other fantasy worlds, with additional advanced technologies making appearances. Wristwatches and three-piece suits from the first book are now joined by canned foods, coal-burning stoves, and eyeglasses. I dig it. It's almost the mirror image of the Dune universe: even though Dune is ostensibly science fiction, set in the far future, the politics are decidedly feudal, people fight with swords rather than lasers, and elements such as mentats and the spice are distinctly magical in feel. In much the same way, the Mistborn world initially presents itself as a swords-and-sorcery-type place, but tempers that with "magic" that is limited by real world physics and is constantly being expanded through research. In a literary genre where everybody but everybody robs Tolkien dry, a little uniqueness goes a long way. Very cool.
An exciting follow-up to the first Mistborn book (my review here), and one that leaves me excited to read the third (my review here)....more
I can't remember being this violently conflicted about a book in quite some time. There are some areas where it's just so well done, with the author aI can't remember being this violently conflicted about a book in quite some time. There are some areas where it's just so well done, with the author absolutely nailing it, and then others where I found myself grinding my teeth in frustration. I'm going to abandon my usual practice of writing short, pithy reviews and just drunkenly ramble on a few things here. (Still no spoilers, though.) That OK with y'all?
Language. About two and a half chapters into this book, I found myself asking, "Why does this feel like a kids' fantasy book?" It wasn't the subject material or the plot, both of which were clearly more sophisticated than Harry Potter and his ilk. While I would feel perfectly comfortable having my 12-year old read this (PG13-violent and utterly sexless) book, I don't feel as though it's necessarily written for him. Finally it occurred to me: it's the language. This book is one of the most simply written books I've ever read, using only the most basic vocabulary. That isn't a bad thing, as I'd rather read something direct and simple than something flowery and overwritten, but Sanderson's language is so simple here that it's almost as if he's drawing with the Crayola 16-set when other authors have the big 64. (One notable exception: having apparently become recently enamored of the word, he uses maladroitly three times. Maybe he was jamming some Weezer while he wrote.) I haven't read any of his other works (yet; Mistborn #2 is on deck), but I have to assume this simplicity is by conscious choice, and it's an interesting choice at that. I'm just not sure yet how I feel about it.
One language choice that I am sure how I feel about is Sanderson's decision to have his characters speak good old American English. The narration is similarly plainspoken, with a fair amount of American slang thrown in, rather than the twee, faux-Elizabethan style of a lot of fantasy authors. I like the approach. One of the most time-honored fantasy tropes is having all the characters thee and thou each other, with a few ne'er did yon stars of Yomama glimmer so resplendently, my suzerain for good measure. And I can handle that stuff, having been weaned on Tolkien and everything that came after, but I found Sanderson's decision to move away from that convention refreshing. I interpreted it as Sanderson saying, "The unspoken assumption here is that this book has been translated from whatever languages they speak on this made-up world, so why translate it to anything other than what is most understandable and comfortable for you to read? To couch this story in funky language is to insult your imagination by implying that you need that in order to realize you're reading a fantasy novel."
Setting and Plot. The setting is a typical high fantasy world - feudal-style nobility and peasantry; shadowy, powerful priesthood; mysterious evil lord, etc. - with some odd, almost steampunk flourishes thrown in. There are wristwatches. Men's formal wear is described as something more like Victorian coat and tails than medieval garb. Magic in this world is fueled by elemental and alloyed metals, which are described rather exactly, using percentages. It's a unique and interesting blend.
The basic plot is about as stock as it gets. If you're familiar with the Star Wars films, the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson books, Eragon, the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, Dune, Ender's Game, or any one of about a million other works, please play along:
Dear [kid with weird name], I know you are only a [farmer / orphan / urchin / child of a minor noble], and this will be hard for you to accept, but you [have Great Powers / are the Chosen One / insert name of funky power here]. You are the only one who can [save the world / save the universe / defeat the Empire / restore order to the Force / kill the Big Boss]. Luckily, even though you just learned your destiny fifteen minutes ago, you will make up for lost time by quickly becoming better than anyone in the history of ever at [Quidditch / dragon riding / sandworm riding / Allomancy]. Any questions?
Needless to say, the book's plot could have been a ticket to Hack City, but it really isn't. Vin's growth and development are handled well.
Exposition. This is a fantasy book for the video game generation. By that, I mean that the book follows the general path of a first person video game:
1) Introduction to the world and the main characters 2) A few early levels whose only apparent purpose is to teach the player how to use the buttons 3) Quests of increasing difficulty, with progressive reveals of the Big Plot 4) Fight with the Main Boss, including the inevitable twist 5) Denouement and teaser for the next installment.
Not that that's a bad thing! But I was really surprised at the way Allomancy (the main "magic" in this world) was laid out. In the two towering fantasy/sci-fi works of the 20th century (The Lord of the Rings and Dune), the supernatural elements of the story operated behind a sort of curtain or screen. The One Ring in LotR and the Spice in Dune both held great, mysterious powers, but the specific effects and extent of those powers were seen only in fits and flashes, and never understood completely by the characters or the reader. In contrast, fairly early on in this book, Kelsier takes Vin on a practice run where he explains how her powers work and what their advantages and limitations are, using plain language and real-world physics, and lets her fly and mess around and just generally exult in her magic. It left me, the reader, as well as Vin the character, feeling that even if I didn't understand this magic perfectly right now, I might at some point in the future, which was a very different feel.
OK, after enough rambling about things I feel ambivalently about, let's wrap up with one big win and one big fail:
WIN: Brandon Sanderson can write the hell out of an action scene. (And since the final quarter of this book is pretty much all action, playing directly into Sanderson's strengths, it kicks all kinds of ass.) The fights in this book are gut-wrenching without being overly gory, and the chases and sneaks are heart-stopping as well. Perfect combination of pace and detail. Amazing. Possibly the best I've ever read from an author in this genre, and if he's able to do that so effortlessly, so early in his career, it gives me hope that he can fix...
FAIL: ...the dialogue. In spite of being favorably disposed due to the use of informal American English, I eventually found the dialogue here really clunky. Everyone is too wordy. Everyone says one sentence too many. Over and over again, I found myself going, "Real people don't talk like this" and especially, "Real people who are supposed to be close friends don't talk anything like this to each other." Seriously, think of how you talk to your best friends in private, then compare it to this book. In addition, there was always that odd feeling of unneeded exposition, as if the characters were talking half to each other and half to the reader. It was unfortunate, especially in contrast to how slick and fast-moving and just plain awesome a lot of the other writing was.
All in all, this was a fun, kinetic read...with a few holes in it. It builds, it explodes, and the ending is really good. If half-stars were allowed, this would have been a 3 1/2. Good stuff.
Also, here are my (spoiler-free, suitable as previews) reviews of the second and third books in the series, if you enjoyed this one!...more
One thing I've found to be true about science fiction is that even though sci-fi authors aspire to speculate on future technology and culture, alien rOne thing I've found to be true about science fiction is that even though sci-fi authors aspire to speculate on future technology and culture, alien races, and faraway worlds, what they ultimately end up documenting most tellingly is their own time and place. What really shows up in the pages are the philosophical and cultural concerns of the author's own era, the timeless questions that come of being human, and a view of the future that is constrained by the limits of scientific knowledge at the time the book was written.
Because of this, the sci-fi that ages most gracefully tends to be that sci-fi that makes the fewest specific predictions about future technology. A good example of this is Wells' own The Time Machine, which wisely steers clear of trying to explain in detail how the titular machine works. As a result, a 21st century reader can enjoy the book for its many strengths - as a fantastic tale of adventure, a disturbing commentary on class distinctions in the late 19th Century, etc. - rather than concentrating on hopelessly quaint and outdated science.
Unfortunately, The Island of Dr. Moreau is not so circumspectly written. The way in which the good doctor goes about his aims is far too well described, and comes off as positively laughable by the standards of even 1960s science, let alone that of 2011. It ended up diminishing my enjoyment of the rest of the story, which is a shame because the book has a lot going for it. For one, it's exciting: Wells writes fast-paced action scenes better than just about any other writer of his era. Also, for as silly as the biology babble is, the actual end results are creepy as hell. And regarding "the philosophical and cultural concerns of the author's own era," this book shows the signs of having been written in the years directly after Darwin in much the same way that The Time Machine has to be viewed through the lens of being less than a generation removed from Karl Marx. It's fascinating as a mirror of the cultural issues of the day. There's even a dash of dry humor here and there, and the human characters in general (all four or five of them) are believable and well-developed.
Definitely worth the read; just prepare to roll your eyes at some of the science....more
This was an eye-opener - I'm pretty sure it was written and published earlier than American Gods, Neverwhere, and Stardust, which would make it the eaThis was an eye-opener - I'm pretty sure it was written and published earlier than American Gods, Neverwhere, and Stardust, which would make it the earliest Gaiman I've read.
Whether it is or it isn't, it certainly reads that way. It ended up changing the way I think about him as an author. This is raw, edgy stuff. Darker, more disturbing, more bleak, and far more erotic than his later work - at least one of the stories was straight-up pornworthy, and several of the others dealt with sex frankly and graphically. Gaiman's voice has a wide range here; a few of the stories are earthy and laugh-out-loud funny, while others are snarky and yet others are otherworldly and elegiac in the way his later novels have tended to be. "The White Road" in particular is a great gateway drug to his later work: a creepy, dark re-imagining of a popular fairy tale. It's rich stuff. The pacing here is excellent as well. A lot of short story collections are arranged chronologically, which doesn't always make for smooth reading. Here, obvious attention has been given to how the book as a whole flows: 100-word stories are interspersed with 5000-word stories, keeping the reader on his or her toes.
One big surprise to me is what a fantastic poet Neil Gaiman appears to be; I really hadn't been exposed to much of his poetry in his other work, and here he drops a bunch of poems, in several different styles, and all are excellent.
I ended up giving this work three stars because while the poems were great ("The Sea Change" is amazing), and a few of the stories really drew me in and will probably stay with me for a long time ("The White Road," "The Daughter of Owls," and "Snow, Glass, Apples," just to name three) a lot of the others left me kind of flat (most of the science fiction-y ones; they aren't bad, it's just that others do it far better). It's definitely worth a read, though, either as an introduction to Gaiman or an after-the-fact look at his early years....more
This is the first of Michael Chabon'sThe perfect love child of Shoeless Joe and American Gods, and one of the best tween-age novels I've come across.
This is the first of Michael Chabon's books that I've read, but it's obvious on every page that he isn't a children's author, but simply a great writer who decided to write a children's book. Better than merely utilitarian, Chabon's language is a joy to read: accessible enough that my then-9 year old stepson enjoyed it, yet I was kept on my toes by the rich, sharp imagery and inventive uses of simile and metaphor. Considering this book is aimed at the same general age group as the Harry Potter series (which I enjoyed), the writing in Summerland makes those books come off as impossibly clunky by comparison.
One of the fastest 500+ page reads I've encountered, and a fantastic ride. Special mention has to go to the wonderful end-of-the-world scene, which is vividly described, exhilarating, and as plausible as any I've read anywhere else....more
So short as to barely even qualify as a novella, The Scarlet Plague still manages to be slow-moving. There's almost no action, as 90% of the book is tSo short as to barely even qualify as a novella, The Scarlet Plague still manages to be slow-moving. There's almost no action, as 90% of the book is the aged protagonist rambling on to his four grandsons (all of whom are filthy, illiterate post-apocalyptic savages) about how the world was before and immediately after the titular plague. London commits one of the cardinal sins of speculative fiction - making his characters speak in weird pseudo-futuristic jargon, which always always always just ends up sounding dated and silly, yet he avoids one of the other cardinal sins in that he does not try to make too many specific predictions about future technology. Because of that restraint, the book doesn't feel as quaint or archaic as say, H.G. Wells or Jules Verne or even early Asimov.
If this book came out today, I'd probably give it two stars, but in 1912 the idea of ragged survivors struggling in the aftermath of a global plague must have been shocking, mind-blowing stuff. As I read this, I tried to pretend I had never read The Stand, or Refuge, or seen Children of Men or I Am Legend. (Actually, I always kind of like to pretend I didn't see that last one.) And in light of that, remembering that there was no I'm-the-last-man-on-Earth genre until Jack London came along and created it with this book, I had to give it three stars.
Plus, I grabbed it for free (public domain) and read it in like 45 minutes. Did I mention it's short?...more
It seems to me that a lot of science fiction writers, even well-known and popular ones, aren’t great writers. They’re great at concept and imaginationIt seems to me that a lot of science fiction writers, even well-known and popular ones, aren’t great writers. They’re great at concept and imagination, but not always that good at conveying their imaginings to the reader. One example would be Larry Niven, whose Ringworld quartet I finished a couple of years ago. As captivated as I was by his world-building, I was equally frustrated by his storytelling. The pacing hitched and jerked like an old truck, racing through some parts while draaaaaaaagging through others, and the description was so vague that it was often like looking at Niven’s (presumably amazing) world through a small, dirty window.
After reading Philip K. Dick’s Adjustment Team, I was prepared to put him in the same category, as that book was built on an interesting premise, but just felt skeletal and under-written. Fortunately for me, I decided to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and see if I was wrong. I was. The book is richly written, nicely paced, and while the dialogue is slightly wooden, that actually fits well in a story where most of the characters are androids, psychopaths, or mentally retarded – it added an uneasy, off-kilter feel to character interactions that worked nicely with the atmosphere of the book. I also found the religious and philosophical aspects of the story very interesting, not to mention unique, which is pretty hard to accomplish.
I was of course very familiar with Blade Runner, the film inspired by this book, but I did my best not to let that affect my expectations. As it turns out, the book is very different in feel to the film, being desolate and post-apocalyptic rather than claustrophobic and noir-ish. There’s also a pretty heavy dose of cultural satire with a feel somewhat like Stephen King’s The Running Man or the film Robo-Cop. Except for the shared names of a lot of the characters, it would have been easy to forget the movie was even based on the book.
I highly recommend this book, whether you've seen the movie, liked it, or not. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is an intriguing, thought-provoking creature all its own.
PS - One interesting thing is that the titular electric sheep actually feature significantly in the plot. It’s not just some metaphor, as I assumed it would be. Crazy. ...more
I'd been meaning to start reading Philip K. Dick for a long time now, at least for the twenty-plus years since I realized that Blade Runner and TotalI'd been meaning to start reading Philip K. Dick for a long time now, at least for the twenty-plus years since I realized that Blade Runner and Total Recall were based on books by the same guy. Two decades and probably three or four more Dick film adaptations later, including the excellent A Scanner Darkly, the decent Minority Report, and the mediocre The Adjustment Bureau, and I'm finally getting started.
This story, the basis for that last film, was rather disappointing. It just felt skeletal and underdeveloped, almost like a draft version where the author was spitballing ideas ("Hey, wouldn't it be cool/crazy if..."). And, don't get me wrong, it is a cool/crazy idea, but once he came up with the premise, the story itself couldn't have taken him much longer to write than it took me to read it. Combine the overly sparse narrative with the stilted dialogue and some very dated, 50s-feeling touches, and it came off more like a script for an episode of The Twilight Zone than a fully-realized work of speculative fiction.
Having said that, it was a fun half-hour read, and I am certainly not deterred from trying out more of Philip K. Dick's work....more
Once you're this far into Martin's monstrous sprawling story, you're pretty well buckled in and along for the ride. Taken as a whole, I unequivocallyOnce you're this far into Martin's monstrous sprawling story, you're pretty well buckled in and along for the ride. Taken as a whole, I unequivocally give this series five stars, as it's the biggest, most ambitious work of fantasy I've ever seen. Even epic works like The Lord of the Rings and The Dark Tower, as huge as they are, simply flip the narrative camera back and forth between two or three main subplots. By comparison, A Song of Ice and Fire has dozens, and the scope is nothing short of dizzying.
Whatever unevenness there is between the individual books is largely the result of the POV characters featured and how I feel about them. So the preponderance of Daenerys in this volume (yes, to be expected, given the title) detracts slightly from my enjoyment, as she continues to be the shining counterexample to the otherwise consistent Martin theme that people who habitually make poor choices in A Song of Ice and Fire end up dead. Lots of Dany + no Brienne + very little Jaime = not my favorite book so far.
My enjoyment was redeemed by a surprising amount of Roose Bolton (my favorite psychopath is always a treat), lots of Tyrion and Jon, and a dash of Davos and Arya. Can't wait for the next book, assuming George and I both live that long....more