Isaac Amisov’s Foundation series is hailed as one of the classics of Sci-fi, visionary for its time and has even received the Hugo Award for "Best All...moreIsaac Amisov’s Foundation series is hailed as one of the classics of Sci-fi, visionary for its time and has even received the Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966. Naturally my expectations were high with these claims of greatness surrounding the series.
But unfortunately the book did not live up to my expectations. Before I start with the problems, I will begin with the positives though. This is a book written in the 1950s. I am sure it must have been pretty impressive for its time and it has influenced much of later coming Sci-fi greatly. Even if you are only vaguely familiar with European history, but especially if you know Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it is obvious that the author applies these historical concepts to his created future in an interesting fashion. One might describe it as an adaption of a cyclical view of history where all the previous events return again, just in a different context.
This, though, at the same time might be the books greatest downfall. It is extremely predictable. You know what is going to happen from the start because of the nature of the story’s construction. This is not helped by the very similar story set-ups: we see the Galaxy’s history happening mostly from the top, and the visionary great guy is always outsmarting the traditionalist reactionary, only in different decades. The insight we do get into this massive imperial world is far too little for my taste: the first part describes the fascinating sights of Trantor, but after that there is little description to find despite the fact that other places are visited throughout the novel.
Some of the visionary aspect of it does not hold up well either unfortunately: the psychohistory idea was very intriguing but Foundation’s scholars write on paper (!), atomic power is the main source of power etc. In our modern world which has far succeeded these trends, this all becomes largely irrelevant and leaves you merely thinking: ‘outdated’.
As for the writing style: it is quite simple and very straightforward. It’s not difficult to read at all. But this book is heavily based on dialogue between, in my opinion, not well enough fleshed out characters. As I said, the traditionalist vs. the innovators and most of those are basically Machiavellian characters with different titles and cloaks.
Overall, this was unfortunately a disappointing read. I can see how this might have been better 60 years ago and it sure was impressive seen in its context. But there other problems mentioned weigh the book down as well. I might have a look at the sequel to see if it gets better though. But this seems like a classic that has not held up well. (less)
Started with 17 and published with 22 years old – if that is not the dream of any young writer, I do not know what would be. Chibundu Onuzo is the you...moreStarted with 17 and published with 22 years old – if that is not the dream of any young writer, I do not know what would be. Chibundu Onuzo is the youngest writer so far whose debut novel was released by the acclaimed publishing house Faber and Faber. Deservedly so: this is a great read that distinguishes itself by daring to stray from the norm.
As simple as this story might sound there are enough twists to the plot and novelty in character and setting to make this is an extremely engaging book. The story is told in two voices, Abike’s and the hawker’s, both of which are written in their distinguished style and mindset. The book is well written and easily and quickly read.
The characters are held ambiguous and are not clear cut: they may be likable but they will act in ways that can repulse you. Especially Abike is very interesting - a strong female lead, but not without the definite flaws of being a product of her environment (and that is not your usual ‘being spoilt’, but being forced to know how to ‘play the game’).
The setting suits the story’s environment very well. Nigeria is a country I personally am not very familiar with, so it was great to be able read about it and experience Lagos from both extremes views which are illustrated very well by use of language and the inclusion of Nigerian dialect and slang.
Above all, though, I would like to praise the book for its realism, which I greatly appreciated. This is not a sugar-coated story. Rather, it is very human. It does not shy away from realistic action or outcomes and characters reacting naturally and not always perfectly to these. This makes for an unexpected and very good, satisfying overall plot and conclusion.
I really enjoyed The Spider King’s Daughter and hope to soon read more from this talented new author. (less)
A Song of Ice and Fire’s massive surge in popularity due to the recent HBO series finally got me, like many others, to start George R. R. Martin’s epi...moreA Song of Ice and Fire’s massive surge in popularity due to the recent HBO series finally got me, like many others, to start George R. R. Martin’s epic journey through the Seven Kingdoms. I enjoyed A Game of Thrones, the first volume in the series. It was well-paced, had a complex and intriguing storyline and had some of the most complex and interesting characters I have encountered in fantasy literature so far. How does the second instalment continue this excellent start then?
As in A Game of Thrones our point of view characters (Catelyn, Arya, Sansa, Thyrion, Bran, Jon, Daenerys, plus the new ones: Theon and Davos), scattered throughout the two continents, deliver us news of all the various and complicated events they witness, forming a well-developed picture of the world Martin created. This series lives through its characters and it is a great fortune that George R. R. Martin is excellent at creating compelling and complex cast to inhabit his story. I am especially impressed with the female characters and how different types of female strength are portrayed in this series. It is extremely refreshing to have such well-written, fleshed out female characters around in great numbers and in main roles. I did miss Daenerys in this volume though. She had very few chapters and compared to the other story lines hers did not progress much. Davos is not as interesting as the other narrators but it was nice to get Stannis Baratheon’s view on the conflict.
The language continues to be very good as well, with a fittingly archaic tang in its vocabulary but very easy to follow, and the dialogue is well-adjusted to each character. The world building is extended further with fantasy elements. Whereas A Game of Thrones might have easily been classified as a political thriller/drama if not for its setting (and one or two scenes), A Clash of Kings makes more use of fantasy genre elements while remaining realistic and believable as well which work well for the story. One leaves with a feeling of a more in-depth knowledge of the world into which one just tread.
But after so much praise, I did have a major issue with this book: pacing. The story took very long to get going at the beginning which was a real shame because the opening chapter was amazing. After that it took me a few hundred pages to get as invested in the plot again as I was at the beginning. While the pacing did pick up in the middle and was just right through to the end, the slow start dented an otherwise great story.
Overall A Song of Ice and Fire’s second volume A Clash of Kings was a good continuation if not a perfect one. This is a book filled with great characters, good writing and world building, but with some pacing issues. If you can live with that and enjoyed A Game of Thrones go ahead and read this. I for myself definitely will continue reading this series, especially after the massive cliff hangers at the end.(less)
Oh, Madame Bovary – you and your ennui. I could not care less… but still I cannot help but admire this book.
Madame Bovary is the kind of story that is...moreOh, Madame Bovary – you and your ennui. I could not care less… but still I cannot help but admire this book.
Madame Bovary is the kind of story that is not up my street at all. I find most romance quite dull, and stories about unhappy marriage and the escapism from it seem even more boring to me. But I decided since I had read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as well as Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest, I might just as well complete the canon of the greatest 19th century adultery novels for sake of comparison.
Now, Gustave Flaubert – what can I say, this man does understand the beauty of language. This fortunately also clearly shines through in translation. The writing is what I enjoyed most about the read.
But oh, the plot! And the characters! They are so frustrating for me to read about. A part of me truly despises the ungrateful Emma Bovary, constantly bored because of her unreasonable lack of realism, her frankly not only mediocre but quite pathetic husband Charles, Emma’s opportunist lovers and all those proud yet uninteresting villagers surrounding them. Same with the plot: why should I care about the kind of story that I normally could not care less about? Why should I enjoy following characters I do not even like? Is language and writing style, however beautiful, really enough to save this work for me?
Yes, it is. The reason I did not throw this is the corner is because of Flaubert’s ability to be humorous about and at the same time antagonizing you to all these incredibly ridiculous characters he creates. He leaves you standing with no one’s side to be on, no one can be taken truly serious. Are the ‘immoral’ fallen characters who stray from the norm not better than the boring and passive conventionalists (those who also attacked this novel when it was first published)? But can you really side with people like that? Also, can you blame them for being the way they are? Who are you to judge?
It is hard or even impossible for me to see through Flaubert’s intentions even though he himself said: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi”. This is far more complex than an idealization of a female literary self. This is realism and the romantic in an inconclusive battle, exalting the ideal while still criticising it. A novel so wonderfully and cleverly written is one I cannot completely dismiss because of its choice of subject. It is truly worthy of being called a classic and a masterpiece. (less)