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 r...moreWow. 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.(less)
This is probably the most fun I've ever had reading a Crichton book! The inspiration for the (similarly enjoyable) 1990s movie The Thirteenth Warrior,...moreThis is probably the most fun I've ever had reading a Crichton book! The inspiration for the (similarly enjoyable) 1990s movie The Thirteenth Warrior, starring Tony Flags, this short, speedy novel purports to be a translation of a 10th Century Arabic text, and is full of "translator's notes" and "footnotes," in much the same way a real translated text is usually presented. It becomes obvious in the first half of the book that this is a gentle tweaking of the Beowulf story: similar in general structure, but different enough to keep you guessing.
The element that made the book most enjoyable was the narrative voice of Ibn Fadlan, the protagonist of the story and titular 13th of the film version. In a very un-Crichtony way, Ibn Fadlan is dry and restrained, and it makes for a lot of humor, as well as the added intrigue of trying to see past Ibn Fadlan's biases and occasionally unreliable narration to get at what was really happening. In that way, I was actually reminded of The Remains of the Day, where the aged butler often YES I JUST COMPARED MICHAEL FREAKING CRICHTON TO KAZUO ISHIGURO. LEAVE ME ALONE.(less)
The Year: 1757. The Place: A vast, unspoiled wilderness that would now be called upstate New York. The Book: Exciting in fits and starts, but generally...moreThe Year: 1757. The Place: A vast, unspoiled wilderness that would now be called upstate New York. The Book: Exciting in fits and starts, but generally a bit slow.
This book took me forever to read, not because it was especially long, but just because it dragged. Reading it shortly after Neal Stephenson's Reamde, which was so riveting that I was reading it late at night and sneaking a few pages during breaks at work, it's probably unfair to hold this early 19th century work to the same standard.
The action scenes were actually very well done - far better, in terms of pacing and description, than contemporary works such as the plodding Frankenstein. And many of the characters (the male ones, anyway) are fantastic: Magua is legitimately menacing, Hawkeye likable, and Duncan frustrating-yet-admirable. Unfortunately, the female characters are fainting, two-dimensional rescue bait, to the point that one of them spends literally half the book being physically carried around over the bad guy's shoulder.
In addition, this book definitely shares the downfall of a lot of early 19th century fiction, that of overly flowery, elegant, and inauthentic-sounding dialogue. Too often, conversations in the book come off like correspondence, as even these supposed "men of action," in the middle of stressful situations, trade long, eloquently composed aphorisms. As a 21st century reader who's been through a lot of Elmore Leonard and Stephen King, it's hard for me to swallow.
I don't regret reading this book, but in hindsight, I probably only finished it because of its historical significance; I would have quit reading a modern novel that bogged down so badly.(less)
Gay culture touchstone? Turn-of-the-20th-century political allegory? Nah. Much more of a straightforward fairy tale than I would have thought based on...moreGay culture touchstone? Turn-of-the-20th-century political allegory? Nah. Much more of a straightforward fairy tale than I would have thought based on having seen the Judy Garland movie adaptation. Once you strip away the 1930s MGM musical-ness (pretty hard to do, considering what a part of the cultural consciousness that film is), and substitute in Baum's simple yet lyrical language, it feels very much like an American answer to classic European folk tales. At its heart, this felt like a story about believing in yourself, being kind, and being a good friend. If I had owned this book when any of my kids were four or five, it would have been wonderful to read to them.
Of course, as a former history major, I looked for the populist, free silver, political satire that was supposed to be here, and I've gotta say I think that must be some bullshit interpretation tacked on by later critics. This suspicion of mine is borne out by the fact that Frank Baum wrote approximately 327 sequels to this book, and to read them all would take more time than the actual Free Silver controversy lasted. I think Baum just set out to write a great children's story that wouldn't bore their parents to death, and he succeeded.(less)
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 imagination...moreIt 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. (less)
You can't really go wrong with this one; it has Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption as well as Apt Pupil (which is five times better and more distu...moreYou can't really go wrong with this one; it has Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption as well as Apt Pupil (which is five times better and more disturbing than the movie). All four novellas are actually excellent.(less)
It is a measure of Neil Gaiman's genius that he can take as tired a genre as the fairy tale and make it so fresh and exciting. The plot of Stardust is...moreIt is a measure of Neil Gaiman's genius that he can take as tired a genre as the fairy tale and make it so fresh and exciting. The plot of Stardust isn't exactly full of surprises. Every twist and turn is one you've read a dozen times before, and every character is a time-honored archetype.
What keeps you turning the pages, then, is the language. Gaiman's voice is absolutely magical: beautiful and poetic without being twee; funny without being silly or childish; full of filigree and curlicues without being self-indulgent. The effect is delightful, the giddy rush of champagne going straight to your head. Lovely and addictive.(less)