I'm still not sure what drew me into this book -- that's always the fun, right, those random books you just feel like you MUST read, for no reason at...moreI'm still not sure what drew me into this book -- that's always the fun, right, those random books you just feel like you MUST read, for no reason at all? That was American Elsewhere. I had never heard of it until a chance encounter on a bookshelf in a San Jose library.
Figuring it wouldn't hurt to open it up, the storyline pulled me in from the beginning. There was something surreal there, but not lacking in heart, or in plot. The story becomes a wonderfully rich portrayal of a unique community, one that is both evocative and chilling. Robert Jackson Bennett did a great job in creating a terrific atmosphere, and matching it with a thrilling and multi-faceted story that kept me interested throughout.
While the book was heavy, it was not a heavy read; instead, it was pleasant and fun throughout. There's no one genre that can contain this book -- the shelvings range from Horror to Fantasy to Sci-Fi to Mystery, and there are elements of each. Recommended to anyone who likes their genres in a blender.(less)
From beginning to end, I was impressed by the Diamond Age. Stephenson seemed prescient at times (about everything except tape drive storage) and his w...moreFrom beginning to end, I was impressed by the Diamond Age. Stephenson seemed prescient at times (about everything except tape drive storage) and his worlds were truly imaginative. I could not help but be drawn into the story of Nell, Hackworth, and the others. There is much going on here, and it builds into a strong story. Strangely for Neal Stephenson, the book could have used another hundred pages. (Someone must have told him that, and now he uses those pages in every subsequent book he's written, whether he needs them or not.)
I will admit it – I did not love all of this book. Plot gets messy, imagination overwhelms rationality. But the parts that I did love, the windows into storytelling bliss, were more than sufficient to outweigh the truly odd machinations of the final third. The genius of Neal Stephenson pops up over and over again, and I was always excited to see what was coming next.
P.S. In the dedication, one line reads: “Douglas (Carl Hollywood) Crockford” Yes, that Douglas Crockford. I wish I knew why...(less)
Of the stories I read as a child, there are a few that I have never forgotten. It's not always clear why this is, but I recently started finding and r...moreOf the stories I read as a child, there are a few that I have never forgotten. It's not always clear why this is, but I recently started finding and re-reading those books, in an attempt to try to better remember them and understand why they stuck with me so long. Of the ones I have revisited so far (see shelf "book-rediscovery-project"), this is the first that fully lived up to its memory. It's clear I remembered this book for a reason -- it had a fundamental impact on the way I viewed the world.
I believe that most of the impact was because of my (lack of) worldly knowledge; as a relatively sheltered eleven or twelve-year-old, there were quite a few ideas in this story that I had not previously encountered. This was probably my first dystopian novel, and the ideas it played with -- most directly, terrorism -- were new to me. Sure, I had been alive for the Oklahoma City bombing, but I had been too young to really understand it. The kind of continuous fear and violence that the book described was unimaginable in my bubble of peace in the late 90s.
Then, 9/11 happened. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, I remembered the similar depictions of terrorism in this novel, and decided that it had foreshadowed the attacks. In my mind, Stephanie Tolan had accurately predicted a violent and grim future. As I got older and my exposure to the world grew, I often feared that we were descending deeper into the book's frightening reality. It could be hard to tell whether things were getting worse, or I was just more aware of terrible things. I didn't even remember much of the story, just the savage and brutal world it described; my memory of the book distorted it into an exact depiction of the horrors of the moment, so the book loomed, horribly foreboding, for a while.
From the perspective of many years later, the foreboding feeling is much diminished. Sadly, despite being nowhere near as violent as its fictional counterpart, I feel that our world has drifted a little closer to Tolan's ultra-violent society than when she wrote it in 1996. Not just terrorism, but mass shootings, civil wars, hate crimes and bigotry; increased security checkpoints, fear, and every-man-for-himself vigilantism. Maybe she was on to something, maybe it's just my increased awareness twisting things again.
When I finally found and re-read the book, there ended up being more to the story than just the terrorism that I had so vividly remembered. Issues are brought up that I couldn't have even imagined when I read it initially, such as the controversial use of drugs to deal with children with learning disorders or mental disabilities. The exploitation of children by parents for monetary reasons. Domestic abuse and its effect on children. The vast increase in the number of autism diagnoses. In fact, The book has so much weighty content in it, I'm amazed it could be considered suitable for the 10-12 age group. (Of course, I haven't read another book for that target audience in a long time, maybe it's not so unusual?) The book is incredibly dark and powerful, so I can't say I'm surprised that I never forgot its themes or environment.
Out of everything in the novel, the sci-fi elements are, honestly, its weakest points; in fact, I nearly had forgotten them completely! Their function is merely to serve as the vehicle that opens the novel to its more serious conversations. This is a book about violence: where does it come from, why does it happen, how can we stop it. It doesn't really answer those questions, but instead relates them all back to the central theme: Each of us can stop the violence in ourselves. It's a powerful message, one that develops and informs the main characters and leads to their destiny together. Yes, there's an agenda here as well, but it's certainly one I'm receptive to. I have a hard time accepting the arguments of those who think perpetuating violence is ever a good idea.
I was extremely impressed with this book. Not just because of how well it held up in my memory, but at its core competency and message, and how relevant they remain. The tone and style match the maturity of the content: it doesn't read like a children's book at all. In today's publishing culture, if it got published at all, I could see it on that "paranormal-YA" shelf that's really for adults anyway. That said, I can't recommend it to any adult on good faith, for I fear my opinion of the story is skewed based on its long life in my memory.
I'm not sure it makes sense on the merits of the book alone, yet... I can't help but give the book five stars. It was important enough to me that I remembered it, and I'm glad I did.(less)
It's a pretty big jump across the fiction spectrum to go from Carlos Ruiz Zafón to Hugh Howey. I think it's a testament to the strength of the Howey's...moreIt's a pretty big jump across the fiction spectrum to go from Carlos Ruiz Zafón to Hugh Howey. I think it's a testament to the strength of the Howey's novel that I still feel comfortable with 4 stars here. While the prose, especially, falls flat compared to Zafón, the story stands very well on its own, and it was a pleasure to read. It was an engrossing read, and I found myself heavily invested in its characters from the first section -- always a good sign!
That said, I felt that many of Howey's ideas were just not that unique; it's easy to see the The Hunger Games' dystopian influence here, and it feels like many of the ideas are recycled. But I guess that's the state of much of modern sci-fi? It's forgivable, especially for a first-time novelist. Let's hope that he keeps writing, and continues to produce works that are at least this inventive.
I think most fans of dystopian novels will enjoy this; it has good characters and story and suspense. I was happy to lose myself in their world (not literally!) for a few days.(less)
I believe there is such a thing as being "too close" to the subject material to enjoy a work of fiction, and if that has ever been true for me, it is...moreI believe there is such a thing as being "too close" to the subject material to enjoy a work of fiction, and if that has ever been true for me, it is here. I work in San Francisco. Recently visited Manhattan. Work around (and with) books all day. Know people who work at Google and have toured their campus. Have a general understanding of problem solving. The problem is when the book comes close to being accurate about a particular topic, but then gets the details all wrong. I understand fictional works can do that (and usually it is for the best!), but that makes it hard when you know too much.
My other complaint is just that there's not a whole lot going on here that's new. It's like The Da Vinci Code, but with lower stakes. It's a mystery, there are puzzles, but it's all been done before. (I think I may have event recently read or watched a puzzle being solved that had the exact same solution)
At the same time, it was a fun story, a nice light read, and some retreading of existing territory (or fictionalizing what I know to be facts) doesn't necessarily make it bad.(less)
This is one of those books where I can't help but want to talk about it afterwards. It has been some time since I've read a book that provides so much...moreThis is one of those books where I can't help but want to talk about it afterwards. It has been some time since I've read a book that provides so much to think about afterward.
The structure along was enough to intrigue me; I am attracted to unconvential novels in this regard, even if it they can be gimmicky. I thought the six novellas were less tied-together, and had more dubiously-connected symbols, than I would have preferred. The stories, though, were stirring and heartfelt, well-written, and I found myself deeply engaged in each world.
In my mind, the book is a ziggurat. At the cusp of the downward trip, the end of the center-most story, I was depressed, and thought the book could be concluded there. Having knowledge of the dystopia ahead, I felt there was little point in returning to the other storylines. In the end, though, I'm glad it did. Ending at that point would have made for an even darker story, where nearly every storyline ends in defeat and/or death; happily, we were able to find a few more positive marks on the way down.
The book resonates as being liberal and anti-corporate, with strong collectivist and anti-slavery themes. I often don't see themes in books, and yet, by the top of the ziggurat, I could have precisely delineated them. Then, Mitchell hits us with them again in every story on the way down, a tiresome bludgeoning at times, until landing us in the thesis on the last page: "For the human species, selfishness is extinction."
I had been waiting for this ever since the indeterminate ending of book 2 -- could that volume have really been the e...moreAt long last, the saga concludes.
I had been waiting for this ever since the indeterminate ending of book 2 -- could that volume have really been the end? Lucky for us all, the third book has emerged, and was incredibly fun.
The steampunk focus of the previous novels remains present, but there is a slightly more political and personal bent to this story; the stakes have gone up, the number of characters has dropped, and the mysteries of the characters are being revealed. The incredible depth of the world has grown, and so the outside world has become ever more important. The sheer imagination and coordination needed to complete this series on a high note is incredible, and Gordon Dahlquist has pulled it off.
This isn't to say there aren't some flaws here. Certainly, there is some repetition, as every action scene seems like one before; some locations and enemies are back yet again. Not to mention that the characters continue to escape from inescapable scenarios, sometimes through contrived plots. There are even a few nods to some previous unconvincing behaviors, though this helps me to accept it. In the end, none of this ever gets in the way; it never detracts from the intriguing main plot line.
Once you get to a certain point in long series, you start thinking about its ending. Will it be worth my time? Will it be sufficient for the magnitude of story that has come before it? In this case, I had those thoughts long before I normally would, due to the long and uncertain wait for volume 3. There's no worries, though, as Dahlquist completes the series very convincingly, with a nicely tied-up ending. I was very happy, even if some subtle points were left out (though I find those are often unsatisfying).
A suitable and rewarding end to the series, which comes across as a major steampunk opus, well worth the time of any fans of the genre.(less)
While reading this book, I found myself thinking, "I would have really liked this ten years ago! This would have been exactly the kind of thing I woul...moreWhile reading this book, I found myself thinking, "I would have really liked this ten years ago! This would have been exactly the kind of thing I would have enjoyed!" ... That's hard to say, I may have cast it aside instead, but it does represent a shift in what I enjoy reading: I'm much more a fan of more literary fiction now than even five years ago.
I understand why this book appeals to some, and even to a fictional young-teenager version of me. It is fast-paced sci-fi action and adventure, with plenty of random fake science and technology thrown in. My problem is that it's just done so poorly, why even bother? Everything from the names of the races to the justifications for the characters' actions screams "lazy"! It was quick and stupid and kind of like drinking a soda... you'll never get those calories (minutes) back.
I'm sure there's much worse SF out there, I've just managed to avoid most of it so far...(less)
I have to admit, for a while, I was pretty disappointed in this book. The first 75 pages are excruciatingly slow, as the authors try to figure out wha...moreI have to admit, for a while, I was pretty disappointed in this book. The first 75 pages are excruciatingly slow, as the authors try to figure out what they're doing. Given the premise of the book, they had to narrow down what they were going to explore. Until you're 75 pages in, they have difficulty with that; the book meanders, covers too many topics, is occasionally confusing or overly expository.
Luckily, once you get past that opening section, the meat of the book is much better. It's a great adventure story, packed with humor, imagination, and the occasional awkward reference (I seriously question if Radio Shack paid for product placement.) The story builds nicely, and most of the ending is in true Pratchett style.
By the end, I was satisfied with how the novel turned out, and quite liked it. I would consider it not nearly as good as his other recent non-Discworld book, Nation, but that book has grown on me considerably since I read it, and this book feels similar. As in so many recent works of his, it explores a lot of philosophical and psychological themes, and that can be a positive.
I'd probably consider this closer to a 3.5... but I liked enough of it to justify the full four stars. A solid adventure/sci-fi read; recommended if you liked Nation; not the same as vintage Pratchett.
I realized how much I was enjoying this book when, immediately upon arrival in San Francisco, I suddenly HAD to buy it so I could finish reading. (Mos...moreI realized how much I was enjoying this book when, immediately upon arrival in San Francisco, I suddenly HAD to buy it so I could finish reading. (Most of my fiction usually comes from libraries... this was unusual.)
This book does many different things, and does them well. (I could have done without the gratuitous zombies, but thankfully that part is passed over quickly) It's very literary, and the style takes a bit of time to get used to; once that's settled though, it gets down to adventure, conspiracy, steampunk, and random bits of sci-fi and philosophy to round things out. It's great fun.
This book has been quite a disappointment. In essence, this is a Tom Clancy novel, but with the interesting Clancy-esque details removed, and tedious...moreThis book has been quite a disappointment. In essence, this is a Tom Clancy novel, but with the interesting Clancy-esque details removed, and tedious Neal Stephenson-esque details added. I don't remember much about my Tom Clancy period of twelve years ago, but those common elements - gunfights, chase scenes, hijacking cars\boats\airplanes, jungles, mountains, cities, espionage, defying orders, terrorists, RPGs, kidnappings, and the occasional hacking - every single one of those is present. It's as if the author said, "I'm going to write the most trite action novel ever, but it has to be over 1,000 pages!"
Anyone who knows my reading habits knows that I feast on long books, as if anything less than an inch thick isn't worth my time. In this case, though, the extra fluff was not warranted. Of the constant descriptions, few were necessary; most sounded like they belonged in encyclopedias, gazetteers, or references works for five-year-olds: "On this curb we have a trash can! It is metal, and square, and dark! It has an ashtray on top so folks can put out their cigarettes! How cool is that!"
So, yeah. I have liked Stephenson's other work much more than this, and I wonder if that is because his descriptions are more useful in worlds I am less familiar with. I'm also frustrated because I know that Stephenson is capable of so much more - much of Anathem (which I enjoyed) is based around various philosophical ideas and constructs. The Baroque Trilogy is a fun romp through the 17th century. I just wonder: what was he trying to do here?
[I did give it three stars, like I do many books I'm less than impressed with, because I did finish. There is a lot of plot, and certainly entertainment value in that. It's just not up to what I expect from him.](less)
I looked forward to finishing the series, but unfortunately was disappointed with how everything came together in the end. Far too much of the importa...moreI looked forward to finishing the series, but unfortunately was disappointed with how everything came together in the end. Far too much of the important action occurred off-screen, the love triangle remained a mess, and the main character was far too oblivious... still. I did enjoy a lot of it, especially the first 2/3rds, but many parts were frustrating.(less)
Definitely enjoying the series now that we are in book two - the love triangle part seems a bit forced ("we can't have a YA series without a love tria...moreDefinitely enjoying the series now that we are in book two - the love triangle part seems a bit forced ("we can't have a YA series without a love triangle in it!") but I felt everything else was handled very well. (less)
I was fairly disappointed by this book. It came recommended from a number of sources, but I thought that the book shied away from being something much...moreI was fairly disappointed by this book. It came recommended from a number of sources, but I thought that the book shied away from being something much grander and more important by focusing too strongly on 80s nostalgia. Many of the issues the book brought up were ignored or quickly discarded, and the plot was rather predictable. While there were certainly parts that I enjoyed, as I whole I felt that it does not live up to its potential.
For a similar read that, while somewhat dated, doesn't shy away from the larger issues, see the Otherland series by Tad Williams. (more accurately, it acknowledges that it's not fully dealing with them)(less)