Doing research for the sequel to my novel I started reading a number of histories of World War I. This is simply put: an amazing single volume history...moreDoing research for the sequel to my novel I started reading a number of histories of World War I. This is simply put: an amazing single volume history of the war, its causes, and course of events (but not the post-treaty fallout). I've read hundreds (or more) of history books, and as single volume war histories go -- this is excellent. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the world we live in, because the modern political arena was forged in World War I (far more than WWII). The often autocratic (or at least Imperialist) regiems of Europe were not prepared for what it really meant to bring the full might of post industrial powers into conflict. The last real shakeup of Europe had been a hundred years earlier with the Napoleonic wars, but the 19th century had remade the economies of the world. The clash, cataclysmic in terms of everything, ended the old world order. All of the big old autocratic states collapsed (Prussia, Russia, the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans) and even the winners were left unable to hold onto their empires. Meyer does a great job introducing the players gradually so as to not overburden the story of the war's origins with background. It reads like a taut horror novel -- and that's pretty much what it is.(less)
Well, given that I'm the author and have read it 50+ times I can't say I'm the most impartial. But if you want to find out more about the book, check...moreWell, given that I'm the author and have read it 50+ times I can't say I'm the most impartial. But if you want to find out more about the book, check out the-darkening-dream.com.(less)
This book is rather brilliant, but isn't for everybody. In my review of Lost It (CLICK HERE), I had inquired if anyone knew any YA that was racy, and...moreThis book is rather brilliant, but isn't for everybody. In my review of Lost It (CLICK HERE), I had inquired if anyone knew any YA that was racy, and this was recommended. It's written in a breezy first-person past with a kind of stream-of-consciousness lightweight quality that made me have to look to make sure it wasn't persent tense. The prose is very very good -- fitting the material perfectly.
Skye is a fifteen-year-old growing up in Santa Barbara, and she's basically raising herself. Her mother is a self-help seminar junkie and all-around new age psychotic, her dad (divorced) lives in LA where he directs films and has sex with pretty production assistants. Neither seem to think about her at all. She has a boy friend, sort of, but wants a girlfriend. She drinks and does drugs, but she isn't a bad girl.
Somehow this character rang very true for me, and the voice is intensely personal and likable. Even the hare-brained situations seem very real, and like Less than Zero the substance abuse and self destructive behavior believable. The voice effortlessly shifts with the state of mind -- often altered -- and does a first class job conveying that. For some, this might be a hard book to read, particularly if one were right-wing, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Bret Easton Ellis's above mentioned masterpiece feels like watching a train wreck. While Girl Walking Backwards doesn't have the terrifying "all rashed and looks dry and I can see that it's been shaved" moment, and is ultimately transcendant.
Finally, his is a book that is very candid about sexuality.
Not only do we have various incidents of masturbation, near sex, and actual sex, but they aren't even the focus. This isn't gratuitous, it's just frank. This isn't about a girl becoming a lesbian, or coming out. It's about a girl trying to find her footing in a world without foundations.(less)
The Wise Man's Fear is one of 2011's two most anticipated Fantasy novels, the other being George R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons (due in July). WMF,...moreThe Wise Man's Fear is one of 2011's two most anticipated Fantasy novels, the other being George R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons (due in July). WMF, however, can be all yours right now. It's the sequel to The Name of the Wind (which I REVIEW HERE). This is High Fantasy of a rather less epic sort. Not that it's any less fun to read, even weighing in as it does at 1008 hardcover pages. Although, who thinks about pages these days, as I read the Kindle version on my iPad (wouldn't want to mess up that nice hardcover first edition I had signed by Mr. Rothfuss last week!).
Despite the length, it's well worth it. This book is seamless with the first in the series, despite the four years gap between their publication. I read The Name of the Wind a second time last week, and WMF picks up and continues with exactly the same style and pace. There is still the box story in the present, but this accounts for no more than 5% of the pages. The action mostly takes place in the past with our hero, Kvothe, continuing on for a bit at University and then venturing out into the wider world. While we sense that some bigger events are in the works, this is still a very personal tale. And it defies all normal story telling expectations in that it just meanders along. My editor's eye says that whole chunks and side plots could be snipped out without effecting anything. And to a certain extent this is true. But would the novel be better for it? Perhaps it could have lost 50-100 pages in line editing, but I'm not sure I'd take out any of the incidents. As the novel itself says, it's not the winning of the game, but the playing of it that matters.
That is very much what The Wise Man's Fear is about. It's a story about stories. It's rich and lyrical, a luxurious tapestry of world and story, without the distraction of the intricate mechanism of plot. The little glimpses into different sub-cultures show a deft eye for details and invention. This feels like a real place, not so much explained, but revealed through the narrator's eyes.
As Rothfuss said in an interview, Kvothe is older now, and he gets himself into more trouble. There's more sex and violence this time out, although the main romance is still endlessly unrequited :-) Kvothe it seems, is a hero of many talents, and that includes those in the bedroom. Rothfuss doesn't focus on these details gratuitously, it's not a book filled with battle (or bedroom scenes).
I'm curious to see how Rothfuss wraps this up in the third book (and I suspect the trilogy might expand). Things still feel early. We find out barely anything new about the main villains. In fact they don't even show in this volume. Just like the first book the end is completely limp and anti-climatic. Kvothe just wraps his story up for the day and we wait (hopefully for slightly less than four years).
But I'll be waiting. Probably for so long that I'll have to read book one and two again. I won't mind.(less)
After a 3+ year hiatus, I return to Brandon Sanderon's epic fantasy world. And if any new fantasy can be considered epic, it's certainly this one. Pla...moreAfter a 3+ year hiatus, I return to Brandon Sanderon's epic fantasy world. And if any new fantasy can be considered epic, it's certainly this one. Planned at 10 books the first two are each over 1,000 pages! But don't let that scare you off. For fantasy lovers this is some serious entertainment.
As I mentioned in my review of the first volume, that book possessed some (minor) structural problems partially addressed in this excellent followup. Two point of view characters (Kaladin and Shallan) dominate the narrative, and while last time the ratio was about 70/30 it's now closer to 50/50. This improvement feels more balanced. Both stories are gripping and don't let up -- during those parts I didn't want to put the book down even for a minute. There is a small percentage of the story told from the POV of other major players. While not quite as good, these at least remained in the same theatre of action. Unfortunately a few "interludes" with one-off stories from people all over the world remain. These stand outside the main narrative flow and are a tad annoying. As an editor I probably would have cut/shortened most -- but they aren't too long.
I loved these books, but be aware this is no Game of Thrones with a fairly realistic world. It's alien. Full of strange creatures, terms, politics, magics and a dizzying and complex mythology that is as mysterious to the characters as to us. Therein lies one of Sanderson's many strengths as he doles out the answers to the mysteries at a satisfying rate without giving away the whole kit and caboodle. The writing itself is clear, confident, and polished. Not literary exactly, but quite first rate. And for a book with such a byzantine plot and titanic length, highly engaging and fast paced. There is a good amount of action and it's very well described. The powers of the Shardbearers and Surgebinders are pretty epic and you can really imagine them whirling through the air in complex battles. During the most exciting parts (usually near the end of the various "books" that break up the long story) the various narratives converge and alternate back and forth more rapidly in a tense and well engineered way.
All and all, I'm not sure these books are for everyone as they are imaginative to an extreme, but if you like made up worlds this is one of the best. It's highly complex, well designed, elegantly plotted, well told, and just a darn fine fantasy read. Few writers have the imaginative scope required to create such an exotic beast. The Stormlight Archive harkens back to Eddings, Jordan during their glory days -- but somehow much more modern.
Recently, I've noticed a lot of epic fantasy novels in the Kindle top sellers, and taking a look at the epic fantasy category list many are Indie publ...moreRecently, I've noticed a lot of epic fantasy novels in the Kindle top sellers, and taking a look at the epic fantasy category list many are Indie publications. This being my favorite genre, I figured I'd give some a try.
The Godling Chronicles: The Sword of Truth (don't confuse with Terry Goodkind's series of that name) adheres to many of the classic tropes: a sort of Indie The Book of Three meets The Eye of the World. Plotwise, we have a kind of Dark Lord, and we have a young guy from the country with a destiny. He has a mentor, he goes on a journey. There are girls (but no sex - boo!). The (relatively) unique element is that he's really a god — albeit a reduced in-human-form god who doesn't know it.
I liked this book, and if I were 13-14 again, I'd have loved it. The plot is straightforward but fine and it's actually a bit refreshing harkening back to those classic "Shanara type" fantasies of the 80s. With the exception of the brief prologue, the narrative sticks tightly to a single protagonist and that keeps the pace up. As an added bonus, the story was co-written by the author's 9-10 year-old son, which is very cool.
It's not a long novel, 344 pages, and represents an opening salvo, more of a "first part" than a traditional "giant chunk" like a Wheel of Time book. This is fine, as it's inexpensive and you can just download part 2 when you get there. I actually like that changes in publishing are allowing for more flexibility of form.
But I do have a few problems with the mechanics. The sentence work itself is fine. Workman like, but never awkward. However, the novel is simultaneously both over and underwritten. Let's start with the under part. The book is written in 3rd person omni with no strong narrative voice and a focus on a few of the characters. Fine. But, the author mainly uses two tricks from his narrative toolbox to advance the plot: dialog and inner dialog. There is some action, but it's fairly thinly painted. There is almost no narrative description, or description at all for that matter. This keeps the story lean and moving, but leaves us with a very thin sense of place and world. We pass through several cities and various countryside, but I was left with no particular sense of any of them. Most of the words are devoted to conversation and almost all plot points are revealed (and re-revealed) this way.
Which comes to the overwriting part, which isn't so much at the sentence or fragment level (this, as I said, was decent) but occurred as (often) characters felt the urge to repeat news and revelations to new parties. Of course this happens in real life, but as a reader, once we know something we don't usually need to hear it again. This is a first novel, and probably not HEAVILY edited, so I expect this kind of thing has improved by book 2, but in general fictional dialog (in books, movies, TV, etc) is like a facsimile of real dialog. It gets the point across in an ideally witty way (probably with more arguing than in real life) and stripped of a lot of the glue that real conversations contain. Those mechanics like "hello" "how are you?" and "Meet me at the fountain." "You mean the one past the statue around the corner from the butcher shop?" "No the other one, um, um, past the Inn with the greenish turtle sign and the tree that got hit by lightning the other year." I.e. Stuff we don't really care about.
The whitespace style in this book is very horizontal (i.e. few line feeds) and I think actually having more can make this sort of thing clearer to author and reader alike. Each line must strive to say something new — ideally even several new things. These things can be plot points, details about the world, revelations of character, or general nuance. If a line can't defend its right to exist, several ways, well as Faulkner said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."
But that being said, if you're a young fantasy fan, The Sword of Truth is still a fun little romp. It's straightforward, and unapologetic about the genre. That's fine with me. I've got nothing against some good Dark Lord action.
This novel borrows heavily from classics like Starship Troopers and Forever War, but who cares. It's great. A flawlessly breathless read from start to...moreThis novel borrows heavily from classics like Starship Troopers and Forever War, but who cares. It's great. A flawlessly breathless read from start to finish. Basically it's about a normal (for the year 2200) 75 year old man who volunteers to leave the sheltered Earth, gets upgraded, and is thrown into the maelstrom of interstellar alien combat. It's action driven, idea driven, AND character driven. Not that the characters are painted with some kind of world shattering mastery, but they're good, and likable. The atmosphere and action are all great. I also enjoyed seeing aliens again in my Sci-Fi. By that, I mean weird and tentacled out hostile aliens. I like my aliens alien.
There are also a lot of good newer Sci-Fi ideas packed into the book, plus a healthy dose of classic 60's-80's ones that have been nicely updated. I have a few little bones to pick with the author's vision of the future. Particularly on Earth where things seem to have barely changed. Hell, there are even magazines in a waiting room. We won't have magazines 20 years from now. In addition, the alien planets seemed to too often have the coincidental breathable atmosphere. This is common across Sci-Fi but always bugs me. The space marines have combat suits, it could just mention the suit dealing with the issue. And several of the aliens liked to eat humans. Now I liked the gruesome touch, but the reality is that alien biology would be way too different. The odds of them having the same amino acids, salts, etc as life on Earth are astronomical. But as I said, I liked Scalzi's aliens, particularly the weird militant advanced religious nut warrior bugs.
But still, these complaints are just nitpicks. I loved the book. I downloaded the next two sequels already (via Kindle to my iPad). Enough said.(less)
I've been doing research on publishing for the last year. I'll have to write aseparatepost about the changing nature of the biz, it's relationship to...moreI've been doing research on publishing for the last year. I'll have to write a separate post about the changing nature of the biz, it's relationship to other publishing businesses (like video games), and the rise of the self published ebook author. But in any case, I stumbled upon this independent and self published author who is selling very well (mostly on Amazon) with no prior print history. I figured I'd check one out. Switched appears to be her best seller and she says on her blog that it's her favorite.
This is a funny little paranormal romance about a girl whose mother hates her and thinks she's a changeling -- but she is. In fact she's a troll. She's then dragged off to her real mother. The first 25% is slightly "high school novel," and the later 75% "fish out of water."
Overall, I'm not sure what to make of the book. The first person voice was strangely engaging and I pounded through it easy in an afternoon. Still, it felt like a first (or maybe second draft), and it's full of flaws.
According to her website the author has roughly ten novels, mostly written in 2010 and she pounds out the first drafts 2-4 weeks! I consider myself fast at 2,500-4,000 words a day of first draft, but I have to admire that kind of lightning pace. The book was short. Maybe 50-60k words and it could perhaps be classified as "engaging" but could've been "really fun read" with some real editing.
There is a crazy amount of "tell," in this book. A lot of it buried in the overzealous volume of interior monologue. Characters are constantly attributed characteristics directly, without them being shown. Often, these characteristics are never shown. The protagonist gives the straight dope on things as she sees it, but this often feels more like how the author wants the reader to see it than how it really is. In fact, there isn't a whole lot of "show" in the book at all.
The author is a solid writer. The sentences themselves are well formed, but a lot of them needed to come out, or be trimmed down. Conversations are redundant. Dialog points are redundant. The author loves the words creepy and foxy. Really loves creepy. The important scenes feel drained of emotion as the excessive interior monologue and somewhat forced dialog rob the moments of any real drama. The more casual conversations feel better than the important ones. When there's action it's awkwardly blocked, so that you have to go back and reread lines sometimes to figure out what happened physically. The overall plot is pretty straightforward. The end was abrupt and unsatisfying too.
But still. I can't say it didn't have a certain charm. I enjoyed reading it, more than many published POCs (like for instance Personal Demons). The fantasy concept is decent and didn't bug me.
The simplest pitch for The Lies of Locke Lamora would be Thieves World Venice. Fantasy often borrows heavily from history, and LLL is no exception. I'...moreThe simplest pitch for The Lies of Locke Lamora would be Thieves World Venice. Fantasy often borrows heavily from history, and LLL is no exception. I'd place the era as roughly 17th century. The book is set entirely in the fictional city of Camorr. It's got canals, bridges, Italian names, a Duke (Doge), nobles, masks, and pretty much all the trappings of the real Venince. It's also got sorcerers, alchemy, and giant towers built of indestructible Elderglass.
Like the brilliant Perdido Street Station, LLL features the city as character. This outing isn't quite as purely imaginative, but also isn't nearly as weird, and far more approachable. I'm a big Venice fan anyway, and so I very much enjoyed the feel. There is a nice balance struck here between atmosphere and pacing. LLL is a fast book with a lot of flavor. The underworld and the city proper are both excellently realized. I particularly enjoyed the glimpses into a well developed religion. Camorr is a city of 13 gods, and as such borrows more religious spirit from antiquity, but at the same time Lynch colors it with an extremely Renaissance/Baroque feel.
The novel is fairly focused. No Game of Thrones, LLL concentrates on a single hero and a few of his friends. It's written in a slightly bizarre third person omniscient, without a heavy distinct narrator, but feels free to flit around between time and characters (even if it hovers 90% on our protagonist, Locke). Interludes discussing historical aspects of the city or flashing back to (mostly) relevant childhood events in the lives of our heroes are frequent. While these stray from the spine of the story, they are entertaining and add depth. There is some slight of hand played with the chronology. Occasionally some action is undercut with the preparations for the same action in a way which is a little confusing.
At the prose level, Lynch is a good writer, with some style and flair. He does a nice job dotting the text with certain archaic words that lend flavor, but all the while keeping the text modern and lively. And he has a knack for deft and humorous descriptions. At the same time, there is a hint of anachronism. LLL isn't a Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell with pitch perfect historical tone -- but it is also much faster paced and transparent to the reader.
The action of LLL is part heist, part swashbuckling adventure, part orphan tale. Like a Venitian Ocean's Eleven, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Oliver Twist all rolled into one. The tone is quippy and cavalier, but also contains a dose of nastiness and torture (night that I mind). The dialog is full of zingers -- many hit, some miss. And often it sounds oddly modern. The plot is easy enough to follow but has a certain byzantine quality -- and more than its share of deus ex machina -- but essentially it all works. The action is fast, furious, and easy to follow. A dizzying mix, but one that works well.
I pounded through the second half (at 752 pages, hardly a novella) in one sitting. Flaws aside, it's fun and ambitious without being overwrought in scope. All in all, The Lies of Locke Lamora was no chore, instead a genuine pleasure, and certainly the best fantasy I've read this year!
This novel won the 2009 Nebula and tied for the 2010 Hugo. It's set in an approximately 100-200 years-from-now dystopian futureBangkok ravaged by gene...moreThis novel won the 2009 Nebula and tied for the 2010 Hugo. It's set in an approximately 100-200 years-from-now dystopian future Bangkok ravaged by gene engineered diseases. Fossil fuels are nearly exhausted and society eeks by on "megadont" (gene hacked elephant) and human power.
At first I found this intensely gripping, as the depiction of the future world is crystal bright and highly novel. The prose is fantastic, bordering on slightly literary. The problem is that the story has a lot of characters, five or six main points of view, and I found it very hard to care about most of them. I only really liked Emiko, the gene hacked whore/slave looking for a better life. The American gene thief was okay too. The rest of them I could hardly focus on enough to follow their rambling monologues. Once the relative novelty of the world ground down a bit, I just couldn't keep myself interested in what was happening. There's plenty of plot, but it's moderately byzantine, and I just didn't care.
Because books are all about the characters. Contrast The Windup Girl with something like Song of Ice and Fire (which I need to write up, but is being adapted into an HBO series). The plot and world in that book are intense, but Martin makes you care for all (well most) of the characters. The Windup Girl has a lot of repetitive rantings. The elderly Chinese guy for example goes on for about two pages in his second chapter about his distrust of banks. Sure this was supposed to instill the sense that he no longer trusts any institution (for good reason), but it just felt self indulgent. The seedy scenes with the titular character in sort of future Patpong where cool though, albiet disturbing.
Let me get back to the world, as this is the biggest strength of this book. The author clearly spent some serious time in Bangkok, and the foreign, yet vaguely possible future was pretty damn good. I don't really buy the relying on springs for power, and there's very little impact here of either nanotech or computers, both of which I think will dominate the 21st century. Still, it was pretty cool. There's a serious element of "environmental preachy" between the lines, which I suspect is a factor in it's award winning status. Award gives love a leftist cause. Not that I'm not pro-environment, I'm just not a "causist." The book reminded me of Neuromancer and Diamond Age in that they described really cool and consistant worlds, but had inadequate character development. Diamond Age in particular is pretty darn boring once you get over the world (which is great). Two many characters, no reason to care about them, opaque and weird motives.
Personally, I think authors should focus tighter on character in these "new world" type books. For example, Consider Phlebas worked for me. People bag on it's story, but at least it focuses fairly well on a particular guy's adventure, and the world is amazing. There's only so much you can do in one book, and a totally new world is a lot. Occasionally someone managed both, like one of my all time favorite novels, Hyperion, but brilliant as that is, even it still suffers from switching the POV so often. But boy does he work some serious pathos into a number of them.(less)
This is one of the best and mostunusualbooks I've read in a while, although it's not for everyone. As you can see it's quite a tome, clocking in at 30...moreThis is one of the best and most unusual books I've read in a while, although it's not for everyone. As you can see it's quite a tome, clocking in at 308,000 words! It's set mostly in England during the Napoleonic Wars (first 15 years of the 1800s for historical dolts). It's also written in a very clever approximation of early 19th century British prose. Think of it as Dickens or Vanity Fair with magic. Actually it's a little earlier than either of those, but still.
This is not your typical modern novel. It doesn't have a lot of action. It's stylistic and archaic voice mostly "tells" (as in "show don't tell"). But the voice is great, if you like that sort of thing (I did). It's wry and very amusing, with a defined narrative tone. The voice gives the who book a kind of wry feel, as if we (the reader) are in on something.
It's also a very character driven story. This is the tale of two magicians, the only two "practical" (i.e. real) magicians to surface in England for some centuries. It's to a large extent about their quirks and their relationship. There isn't a ton of action, although there is plenty of magic. There are copious and lengthy asides. Every chapter has several pages of footnotes on magical history! You can skip/skim these if you like.
The historical feel is really good. Most of the characters are "gentlemen" or their servants so their's is a particular rarified world of the early 19th century British aristocracy. I know quite a bit about this era and it felt pretty characteristic. The Napoleonic Wars are well researched, but they aren't front and center, serving more as a backdrop. This all has a very British slant to it, which is accurate from the British perspective. I.e. Napoleon is a bit of a bogey man. While the British felt this way, it was mostly propaganda. I'm actually a pretty big Bonaparte fan -- he did a lot to shake up and form the modern era -- even if he was a "tad" aggressive. The 19th century British Empire was itself staggeringly arrogant and well... imperialistic. But anyway...
I also liked the way the book handles issues of enchantment and perception. This is a very fairy oriented magic -- as is appropriate to a historically based English Magic -- and it's treated deftly with a strong sense of the fey. Many of the characters are under strong enchantments, preventing them for hundreds of pages from realizing something which seems rather obvious to us readers. This is both fun and frustrating.
If the book has any problems (besides being a bit long) it's that the end isn't entirely satisfying. Things are not really explained to either the characters or the readers. They are wrapped up, but not clarified. So I had the feeling of a grand build up without appropriate payoff. But I did enjoy the journey. This is clearly one of those huge first novels that was like 10 years in the crafting -- making it unlikely the author will every exactly repeat the phenomenon.
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The premise is fine, set in a dystopian 2150 where teens are branded at 16 as"legal for sex." Nina...moreI really wanted to like this book more than I did. The premise is fine, set in a dystopian 2150 where teens are branded at 16 as"legal for sex." Nina is almost 16, and is dealing with not only the stress of this oncoming rite of passage, but boys, the death of her mother, and a bigger conspiracy.
But where to begin with the problems. The protagonist is okay, and there isn't anything wrong with the prose, but fundamentally this book stands out as an example of premise over plot. Plot, we are told is how the characters in a story deal with or overcome the premise. A good one sells the premise in an engrossing and personal manner. The plot just felt weak, and the characters reactions to it rushed and forced. People keep popping up out of nowhere. Dramatic events -- like the narrator's mom dying -- blink by. They live in Chicago, yet everyone seems to know everyone. The villain tattles his villainy while playing hide and seek with the heroine -- so very Scooby Doo.
And the Science Fiction is pretty darn mediocre. This is 150 years from now and music and films are stored on "chips!" There won't even be physical media in 15-20 years. There is no mention of a net or internet -- nary a computer. They still have magazines! Video playing machines that play films on chips (like a DVD player). People have phone numbers (also on the way out already). There are no substantial tech improvements. Some "transports" that maybe fly. Mention of moon and mars settlement, but no matching tech on earth. No new biotech, no new computer tech.
150 years ago is 1860 and the civil war!
I didn't hate the book, in fact wanted to like it, but it just fell flat.(less)
I was slogging through a best selling YA historical fantasy when I finally couldn’t take it anymore. That particular piece of anonymous juvie trash wa...moreI was slogging through a best selling YA historical fantasy when I finally couldn’t take it anymore. That particular piece of anonymous juvie trash was making me want to gag myself with a spoon so I needed to wash the bad taste out of my mouth with an entirely different kind of filth.
Enter the disturbing indie crime thriller about no less a subject then a serial killer with a taste for little girls. Apparently it’s been a runaway best seller in the UK (both the author and the setting are British). And you’d have to be a total whack-a-doodle like me to even pick up something like this.
Sugar & Spice doesn’t have the greatest writing in the world. The book has a peculiar distant quality — maybe a good thing — and the point of view changes are frequent, confusing, and totally jarring.
Still, I couldn’t put it down. Desforges sure did a lot of research into the dark unpleasant corners of the human psyche. And this book attempts to put you there. Full frontal. It’s not a comfortable place, but it does have all the fascinating quality of a colossal train wreck. There’s no brilliant storytelling here, although the prose is workmanlike and clear. The book could use a 15-20% trim-job. But it’s still a compelling journey if you like to read on the dark side.
The first book in this series,The Lies of Locke Lamora, was one of the better novels I read last year. Red Seas picks up right afterand avoids Sophomo...moreThe first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, was one of the better novels I read last year. Red Seas picks up right after and avoids Sophomore Slump by switching up the scenario and the location fairly substantially. Our heroes have left their Venice-like hometown of Camorr and venture off to a new city (Tal Verrar) and a new (and even more elaborate) scam with even bigger stakes.
The first third of the novel is Oceans Eleven in the Renaissance, and it's real good fun. The world is enormously detailed and Scott Lynch is very sharp with the dialog. He has come into his own in this second book, as it's wittier than ever. There is a very slight overwriting to the style, but you get used to it quickly and the huge novel flies along. The dynamic between Locke and his partner/friend Jean is fabulous and they are very well drawn characters.
This is aided enormously by a series of flashbacks. In the first novel, which also crossed two timelines, it was a little confusing which was which. This time around, Lynch has clearly labeled the flashback chapters. Because the novel begins essentially in the middle of the current heist, these are used to fill in the setup and the complex relationship between the two men. Walking a delicate line, Lynch has to maintain his suspense by NOT telling us how exactly the heist is actually going to work. We are tolled out bits and pieces until the very end.
Then about a third of the way in we take a hard tack to starboard and enter a high seas pirate tale. The entire middle act is shipboard and has less to do (directly) with the heist of the . At first I was like woah, but hell, I like pirates and this was good fun. Somewhere in Lynch's brain there exists a different novel, about half the length, without the whole pirate part. You can tell this was self indulgent, that he really researched period nautical life and wanted to really use it. From a structural sense, the pirate thing isn't even necessary, but because this world and its characters are so rich, and it was so fun, I think it's a net win.
Hell the whole act of reading a fantasy novel is escapist, who cares if it's too long as it's a great read -- which Red Seas absolutely and definitely is. A pure pleasure and a work of delightful fantasy. Plus, so strong are it's characters, that it actually has a good bit to say on the nature of friendship.
Oh, and if you really like pirate fantasy two other favorites of mine over the years are On Stranger Tides and Wyvern.
I usually don't read "straight" historical fiction (i.e. without magic), but I was drawn to The Last Kingdom by a comment George R R Martin made about...moreI usually don't read "straight" historical fiction (i.e. without magic), but I was drawn to The Last Kingdom by a comment George R R Martin made about how it contained some of the best battles he'd read. This is the first volume in the "Saxon Stories" (there are at least 8) and chronicles a fictional earl during tumultuous 9th century England. This is the same period as the excellent TV show Vikings and has a number of overlapping historical figures. Basically, Saxon England was divided into a number of kingdoms and continually raided, invaded, and settled by waves of Danish (vikings, although technically that only refers to raiders). This is an intensely interesting period, detailing a clash between two different very dark ages peoples. The Saxons are a heroic society transforming into a priestly one. And the vikings are just straight up heroic warriors. I don't use this term in the modern sense of the "hero" of a story, but in its more traditional sense of meaning societies dominated by the charisma of individual warrior leaders. The Last Kingdom itself is first person, written in a fairly narrative (lots of telling) style. It's tight, personal, and intensely fast paced without being even slightly exploitive. The whole thing feels very appropriate to the ideas of the time. The narrator, while a Saxon, grew up among the Danish and reflects the warrior ethos. He is disdainful of the weak, of the church, and values the traditional warrior traits of pride, honor, strength, and courage. In these circumstances they aren't trite, or a caricature, but a reflection of this very traditional mode of masculinity -- still admired -- but not at all in alignment with the outward values of our modern society. Perhaps this is why medieval fiction, inclusive or exclusive of the fantasy, is so appealing. I'm pretty certain I wouldn't want to actually hang with any Danish Earls, but they sure make for good fiction. There is a lot of history in these novels, and Cornwell has clearly done his research. He sticks closely to actual events (as close as can be managed due to our conflicting and incomplete sources). But the details don't bog the story. Our narrator is skillful woven into the tapestry of events such that both the political complexities and the way of life are chronicled in a personal and immediate way. If this period, or even heroic societies in general, interest you, this is a really excellent series.
Most of the good things about books 1 and 2 of the Gentleman Bastards are also true of The Republic of Thieves. The latest installment serves up good...moreMost of the good things about books 1 and 2 of the Gentleman Bastards are also true of The Republic of Thieves. The latest installment serves up good fun, great characters, and all that. Lynch again moves the setting, this time to the city of the Magi, Locke's bitter enemies from book 1. It brings into the foreground Locke's mysterious and absent former lover/rival. Again the story is told both in the present and in flashback.
The two timelines don't fit together entirely harmoniously. The present focuses on a contest/rivalry between Locke and Sabetha (his former lover) while the backstory details their childhood relationship and a long episode where the Gentleman Bastards crime gang played Elizabethan Actors for a summer. Partly, this addition feels gratuitous, like the pirate episode in Red Seas Under Red Skies, and certainly it exists because Lynch read a lot about this period and wanted to include it. It's also (IMHO) the best part of the novel. We get to see a few of our favorite dead bastards alive and well (the twins) and (briefly) Chains. Plus, it's just a fun romp and a bit of a caper.
And that's sort of the problem with the main story. The back and forth with Sabetha was great, but the "caper" wasn't really a caper. Both rivals are chosen by the Magi to run two sides of a strange election process -- which is entirely trumped up and serves as a human proxy for the nearly all-powerful Magi. It just never felt very real, urgent or exciting.
Still, it's an enjoyable book, and if you enjoyed the other two, read it. But The Republic of Thieves is a notch below its predecessors, perhaps 4 stars instead of 5.
This is a verylikableteen romance about an Idaho girl's first real relationship and of course... how she lost her virginity. I read this in my continu...moreThis is a very likable teen romance about an Idaho girl's first real relationship and of course... how she lost her virginity. I read this in my continued meandering quest to find out just how edgy and racy YA can actually be. I hope someone points me to another answer, but I'm thinking... not very. If you know anything really edgy, please put it in a comment. Lost It is pretty reminiscent of Judy Blume's Forever (my review HERE), and it's gone backwards in the sexual explicitness department big time. Really there's barely any.
Don't get me wrong. This is a good book, and it stands on its own. It's just not racy. But I really did like the voice. Using the standard first person past you are immediately and tightly drawn into protagonist Tess's head. She's pretty funny too, and not your totally typical teen girl. There is a lot of interior monologue, but it doesn't suffer from the "too much tell" problems that this often entails. Like, for example, the Indy book Switched (my review HERE) I read the previous day. With Lost It, I actually laughed a number of times aloud -- or at least chuckled. Like all these books, the narrator is what drives the whole thing, and the book delivers 100% in that regard.
Many of the other characters are good. The best friend, the boyfriend, and the grandmother all felt unique and real. The parents less so. Tracy doesn't have the effortless ability to make every character totally and completely believable like Judy Blume, but who does? Nevertheless, she gives it the good old college try and the results are very good.
But the tameness bothered me. In our era of hyper shock factor, it would be nice if an honest book like this was a bit more honest and open about its central topic. Sex. Forever certainly has the edge there, and it's more than 35 years old. It's also worth noting that the two books have almost the same cover. I guess publisher marketing departments all think alike. Observe to the right!
I don't know what it is, but at the same time the internet has opened the door to vastly more sexual material than my 70s or 80s brain could have ever conceived, popular media has less and less. But more violence. Somehow this seems pretty twisted -- at least the more violence less love thing.
Anyway, Lost It, is a good book. Refreshing actually because I didn't have to force myself to finish it. It's all character driven, and when well done that's a very good thing.(less)
Having just finished the first draft of my second novel I did what I always do after a draft: take a little time to consider my craft (and not look at...moreHaving just finished the first draft of my second novel I did what I always do after a draft: take a little time to consider my craft (and not look at the book). So I pulled this puppy off my stack of books on writing. I've read a lot of such books, and this is one of the better ones in it's category.
They fall into a number of broad groups: books on specific components like plot or character, books on sentences, books on editing, books on selling your books, books on summarizing your books, windy pontifications on the nature of creativity, and this type, the bit of everything, with a dose of personal experience thrown in. Lessons is a lot like Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. Both cover a bunch of the big areas quickly like plot and structure, and also include the author's personal perspective on his career (Morrell's best known for First Blood, on which the first Rambo was based) and the writing business. It does not focus heavily on sentences or editing.
There were a number of interesting insights. He has a technique for getting past sticky points in your story construction I might try (next time it happens). There were also some interesting technical thoughts on the structure of scenes and chapters. He has a perspective on selecting POV that I hadn't come across, which was interesting. Although he is slightly dated in his opinion of first person stating that he feels it always needs a reason why the narrator is telling the story. This used to be the case, but in the last few years the rise of first person (particularly in YA) was sort of negated this.
A good chunk of the book is about his career, optioning books to Hollywood etc. This was amusing as well. He started in the early 1970s so he's a product of that different era in publishing. The book was written in 2002 and while none of the writing advice is dated, the advent of ebooks and changes in the market are shifting the business side. Still, good writing is still good writing, and even writing style itself doesn't change all that fast. Books I've read by authors whose prime was the 1950s still have plenty to offer. Last weekend I read The Postman Always Rings Twice, published in 1934, and that hardly seems dated.
So if you like books on writing and plan to read many, I'd check Lessons out. While that doesn't sound like spectacular praise, I do like this book. Many writing books I read are total drivel. This one was worth the time, and that says something.
This book itself as Fantasy, but it's certainly not your typical one. Really it's a sort of reinterpreted epic (and I mean long) historical romance --...moreThis book itself as Fantasy, but it's certainly not your typical one. Really it's a sort of reinterpreted epic (and I mean long) historical romance -- without much of the modern sense of romance (almost none). But it does have plenty of the traditional, more atmospheric form.
This is a flowery first person narrative about a slave girl brought up as a sort of high end courtesan who gets involved -- very involved -- in politics. I'm going to try and break down and discuss various elements of the work.
It's worth noting the tremendous length. The book is 900+ pages and feels it. I enjoyed it, but it's like four novels glued together. This lends it a decidedly Gone with the Wind effect. Just when you think it should be over (except for the fact that you have 650 pages to go!) everything switches up and it moves on to a new stage. This happens several times.
First the setting. With the exception of a bit of prophecy and one large scale pseudo divinity (the Master of Straights) at about the 85% mark this novel really has no magic. And in fact, is actually a sort of disguised work of Historical Fiction. The Fantasy is more the invented nature of the tale than any actual magic. As best as I can tell the whole thing is more or less set in a reinvented thirteenth or fourteenth century France. It felt late medeval or early Renaissance. At times I wondered if it even had overtones of Carolingian (ninth century France). The names of the places and faiths are all changed, but in a recognizable way for those of us who know our European history. Rome is "Tiberium," Spain "Aragonia," the Germanic tribes the "Skaldi." Carey does a good job of this, and her grasp for the flavor and cultures of Europe between the fall of Rome and the modern era extremely solid. The central nation of the novel feels both troubadour French and even a little Late Venetian Republic at times. There are plenty of deviations from real history. First an foremost the loosey goosey religious situation (as opposed to the dogmatic Catholic church). The religions have been reinterpreted and the nation founded by what appears to be an interesting mating of Jesus and Dionysus. An intriguing (and Romantic) mythical entity who was also followed around by a bunch of demi-god disciples who seeded various schools or bloodlines. Overall, the setting was probably my favorite part of the novel.
The voice. At first I loved the voice. Yeah it's flowery. Girly. Really girly. And full of words that the Kindle dictionary informed me were "archaic" or just chosen for plain weighty flavor. Words like "limned" or "ague." The sentences have an unusual and formal structure. There is a LOT of reppetition. This began to wear on me. Carey reminds you like 50 times who everyone and everything is, which considering the vast cast of characters and the incredibly complex political situation might be necessary for those that don't have a semi-photographic memory or an obsessive knowledge of European history. The narrative is first person, and told from some unspecified far future point in Phedre's (the protagonist) life. It's the antithesis in many ways of my own voice, as it's really really really heavy on the TELL and fairly light on the SHOW. Carey loves to insinuate before the action (when it occasionally occurs, separated by many many pages, but often enough given the titanic length of the book) that things won't turn out as planned, or that something bad is about to happen. Lots and lots of stuff is done with narrative summary. I myself try to set everything in scene and tell it as it happens in a more hard boiled style, more like the Maltese Falcon or the Big Sleep, even if the subject matter is very different. Carey chooses a more sentimental approach. But at the same time I found the voice very distancing. A lot of this is the feeling that it is written looking back on events, which removes a lot of the tension inherent in the action. The rest is probably the TELL factor.
I liked the whole sex-slave-girl-bondage-courtesan angle. But Phedre is a little too good at just about everything other than pure agressive bravery, and she has her constant companion the warrior-monk for that. While bad things do happen to her, she pretty much flawlessly reads every situation and is titanically lucky / unnaturally talented. I still kinda liked her. And the fact that she has a lot of edgy sex is good. The book alternates between graphic and evasive in this realm, which ends up being more teasing than satisfying. Still, I guess normal people might find it dark.
Now the overall affect of this novel is pretty good. It starts off great. But it sometimes bogs under volumes of political talk I found excessive -- and I read multivolume political histories for pleasure! Some of the sub-adventures (like Phedre's time as a Skaldi slave) are really good and there are lots of varied settings, cultures, and characters. I also really enjoyed the depth of world building and the alternate but very "realistic" religious mythos. But...
There is absolutely no psychological realism to any of the characters, our protagonist included. The central condition of Phedre's nature is supposed to be that she finds pain and suffering intrinsically hot. Even this isn't really handled totally consistently. The rest of the people -- while interesting and possessed of different traits -- merely serve the story or the need to roster out a bunch of interesting types. The don't feel exactly cardboardy, as they are detailed, but unlike the completely brilliant Game of Thrones, there is no fundamental relationship between the different nature of different personalities, their situations, and the decisions they make and the consequences those decisions bring.
In the end, I found the way in which things just sort of grandly worked out for Phedre tedious. The big war at the end is complex, but summarized, and the wrap up phase of the story nearly 100 pages. Carey also just loves to throw in grand and sumptuousness just for it's own sake, which at the beginning felt lush, but by the time Phedre has dressed in 62 elegant gowns a bit much.
Still, I kind of liked the book, if only for its world and its very creative reinterpretation of medeval/renaissance fantasy. At times it reminded me of Guy Gavriel Kay, but his works felt somehow a bit more connected to place and certainly more emotional.
I had seen the film when it came out (and several times after) and it's long been one of my absolute favorites. So to that effect the novel has been s...moreI had seen the film when it came out (and several times after) and it's long been one of my absolute favorites. So to that effect the novel has been sitting on my shelf for over ten years waiting to be read and this spring I finally got around to it. In some ways I'm glad I waited because I wouldn't have appreciated the prose as much years ago. The voice, told in lightweight third person present, and lacking nearly all mechanical constructs (like dialog quoting or tagging, preamble explanations of scene transitions, etc.) has a breezy lyrical quality to it. It can only be described as delectable. There is a feel of watching a beautiful but flickery film, a series of stuccato images flash through your head as you read it. It's worth quoting to illustrate:
"She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather. There is another gust of wind, a buckle of noise in the air, and the tall cypresses sway. She turns and moves uphill towards the house, climbing over a low wall, feeling the first drops of rain on her bare arms. She crosses the loggia and quickly enters the house."
The plot -- such as it is -- involves a war battered Canadian nurse lingering in Italy at the close of WWII. She has isolated herself in a half destroyed villa and cares for a mysterious burn patient who is dying and too fragile to move. The book focuses on the nurse as its protagonist, concentrating on her relationship with an Indian (via the British army) bomb disposal tech and her efforts to come to terms with the war and loss. The patient slowly unravels his own tale to her. It is his story, set mostly in Egypt before and during the start of the war, which is the primary focus of the movie. In the book it serves more to offset and focus the nurse's point of view.
I am blown away by the effort of translating this book for the screen. Frankly, although I loved the novel, I like the film better -- this is rare. Anthony Minghella managed the near impossible, translating this gorgeous prose into an equally lyrical visual style. It's less stuccato, more "lush and languid." Film is a more linear medium, and Minghella focuses the story to create grander more visual arcs. To do this, he expanded the patient's epic story of love and loss in pre-war Egypt. I'm a sucker for Egypt, the exotic, the British Empire in decay, and worlds that no longer exist. This story feels bigger than the nurse's, being as it is more tied in with history and international events. But in both you have a powerful sense of people fighting for their passions, both interpersonal and intellectual, despite the baggage of past choices and the buffeting blows delivered by the unstoppable forces of history.
Both variants of this story are inherently complex, ambiguous, and emotional works. Look for no answers here, just gorgeously rendered questions.(less)
This little novel caught my attention yesterday while running a Kindle Selectfree day. I was sold by the tag line, "She reads minds. He controls minds...moreThis little novel caught my attention yesterday while running a Kindle Select free day. I was sold by the tag line, "She reads minds. He controls minds. Together, they might get out alive." I like the notion of a couple stuck together by the inherent nature of circumstances. I tried to build this dynamic into my second novel, Untimed — only it's time travel, not mind reading.
I pounded through this book in one sitting, as it is only 134 pages, making it more a novella. This is a new trend made possible by the Kindle store. Previously novellas were basically impossible to sell and besides, I was never really into them, being more the 400,000 word per volume, ten volume fantasy kind of guy (I have actually read all but the last of the Wheel of Tedium). But now, being older and having less time, I'm finding I dig 'em.
Forbidden Mind is written in tight first person past. The prose is very snappy and light, the way I like it. Perhaps it could use the tiniest bit of further line editing, but it's good. We drop right into the character and the story and race from there. In a 134 pages, there isn't room to dawdle and Kinrade doesn't. Things are lean, with the bare minimum description. The protagonist is very likeable. She isn't super complex, but she has a nice non-snarky teen voice. The setup here is that she's a mind reader who lives in a kind of Professor X's school for the gifted — but they aren't so altruistic. In fact they rent out the paranormal kids for clandestine missions (slightly Dollhouse like). The scenario is very intriguing and the book so breathlessly fast that we race right through the "school" scenes and into Act 2 and the B story (romance), which likewise blur by.
In Forbidden Mind, the story is the girl's perspective and so we get more of the mind reading than the controlling. This part is well handled, but I thought there was some juicy potential in the synergistic relationship between a mind reader and a coercer that was left on the table. Things move fast and character is more Kinrade's strongpoint than complex action so their extraction from their predicament is quick and straightforward. Being a crazy nerd I've spent an insane amount of time thinking about physic powers and their ramifications. I love books that deal in complexity with a system of powers. The Julian May books do, as does Sheri S. Tepper's remarkable True Game series. I would have loved to see this pair escaping using a mental version of the three legged race. Plus, this is a powerful pair of powers: unlimited mind reading and mind control, so they could easily overshadow obstacles without a very threatening antagonist (a Heroes Sylar type) or significant limitations (like Firestarter's cerebral hemorrhaging). We don't have these. But Kinrade constructs the story in such a rapid and straightforward way as to avoid the problem. And the ending comes equally quick, but satisfying.
Which leaves us room to explore this interesting dynamic in the sequel. If you like paranormal teen adventure, try it out.
I read this after two different friends recommended it in the same week. Wow! If you're one of my (presumably) many readers who love video games. Go b...moreI read this after two different friends recommended it in the same week. Wow! If you're one of my (presumably) many readers who love video games. Go buy and read it. This is pretty much the ultimate classic video games novel! And I should know, having been born in 1970, the perfect time to experience the full rise of video games and modern pop culture (inaugurated May 25, 1977). I was so enamored of computers in general and these little beasties in particular that I went and made (and sold) thirteen of them professionally.
But back to Ready Player One. It's a first person narrative set in a roughly 2040 dystopia where the world has basically gone to shit and most people live inside a gigantic virtual reality video game. It's creator has died and left his vast fortune to the winner of an elaborate easter egg hunt (think Atari Adventure Easter Egg crossed with the Great Stork Derby). This whole world and contest centers around an obsessive love of all things pop-culture and 80s, particularly films, comics, and most importantly, video games.
In practice the novel is an old school adventure set mostly in virtual reality. But it contains an astounding number of well placed and deeply woven 80s pop-culture references. For me, they were continual fun. I got 99% of them, including some damn obscure ones. I've played every game described in the book (except for Dungeons of Daggorath -- never had a TRS-80 -- but it looks like Wizardry), seen every movie, heard nearly every song, etc. I don't know how this book will read for someone a lot younger who isn't up on all this old school geekery, but I sure enjoyed it.
The story is great fun too. The protagonist is likable and all that. It's not a long book but races along. There are a few second act jitters (the "romantic" period between the first and second keys), but I blew through them fast enough. The prose is workmanlike but unglamorous and there are some cheesy or cringeworthy moments. They don't distract from the fun. The last third in particular was awesomely rad with numerous 1337 epic moments. When the protagonist faces off against an unstoppable Mechagodzilla avatar and invokes a two-minute Ultraman powerup I felt tears coming to my eyes.
As Science-Fiction the book is a bit mixed. Mr. Cline manages to deftly describe what must to the novice be a bewildering array of virtual reality technologies and concepts. He's fairly unusual in actually specifying some of the interface elements in his world and he does a credible job with all of this. Nothing stood out as particularly bogus, but was based on decent extrapolation. There are some elements, however, which still exist in his 30-years-from-now future that are already on the way out. Hard drives in "bulky laptops" for example. One only has to look at the iPad and the Macbook Air to see that writing on the wall. Again, I must point out that these minor quibbles do not detract from the book's extreme fun factor.
Cline is uncannily knowledgable about his video games (and again, I should know), but there is a curious oddity in the biography of the central Bill Gates crossed with Richard Garriot character. He is described as releasing his first hit game (for the TRS-80) in 1987 in plastic baggies. Besides wondering if any TRS-80 game had much cultural impact (Read my own Apple II guy origin story here!), the date is totally off. If he was talking about 1982 that would have been fine. But by 1987 the TRS-80 had gone the way of Allosaurus and plastic baggies hadn't been seen in years. My first game, Math Jam, was released in baggies in 1984 and that was way late for them. 1987 featured games like Zelda II, Contra, Maniac Mansion, Mega Man, and Leisure Suit Larry. All of these are well after the era venerated in the book. This small, but important, error is odd in a book so otherwise accurate. I can only assume that the author (and his character), living in the middle of the country, existed in some kind of five-year offset time-warp :-)
On a deeper level, the novel toys with one of my favorite futurist topics: Will we all get sucked into the computer? I actually think the answer is yes, but that it's unlikely to happen via 90s envisioned visors and immersion suits (like in Ready Player One). I think we probably will have retina-painting laser visors/glasses at some point. Then neural implants. But the real big deal is when our brains are digitized and uploaded into the Matrix. Muhaha. I'm actually serious, if flip. Eventually it will happen. If not this century then the next. I just hope I make it to the cutoff so I can evade bony old Mr. Grim and upgrade.
In conclusion, I have to agree with the back cover quotes of some other authors I like:
John Scalzi: "A nerdgasm... imagine that Dungeons & Dragons & an '80s video arcade made hot, sweet love, and their child was raised in Azeroth."
Patrick Rothfuss: "This book pleased every geeky bone in my geeky body. I felt like it was written just for me."
So if you have even the least enthusiasm for video games, virtual reality, 80s pop culture, or just plain fun. Go read this book!
PS. If you are 5-10 (or more) years younger than me (born 1970) and have (or do) read this book. Tell me in the comments what you think of it. I'm really curious how those who didn't live it see it. (less)
This 60 page short story is so up my alley. A story of time travel, set in medievalBaghdad, what could be better? If it were written in a lyrical styl...moreThis 60 page short story is so up my alley. A story of time travel, set in medieval Baghdad, what could be better? If it were written in a lyrical style reminiscent of the Arabian nights! This is a gold and gem encrusted little dagger of a story. Mimicking prose style AND story telling conventions of its chosen era. It manages to demonstrate its time travel device and constraints in a manner so clear even an Abbasid merchant could understand.
It won both the Hugo and Nebula Novellette awards. Good show. Read it. Ali ibn Hammud al-Nasir (the villan from my own novel) commands that you do so. And he's been known to make tea from the ground bones of those who refuse him.
I read this book both because it was represented by an agent I was interested in and because it loosely fit the ill-defined cross-genre of my own nove...moreI read this book both because it was represented by an agent I was interested in and because it loosely fit the ill-defined cross-genre of my own novel: Supernatural thriller with realistic style and magic. In fact, in this book it's not even 100% clear that the magic is intended to have actually happened -- but I like to think it did. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on here, particularly to my taste. There are three points of view, and not all are as good. One is the female protagonist, a former anthropologist hiding out in Miami from her murderous African shaman ex-husband. The second is the same character, but told in the format of journals written during her field work in Siberia and Africa. And the third is a Miami Cuban-American police detective investigated a series of horrific murders in Miami (perpetrated by the nasty shaman of course). I loved the detective, his investigations of the ritual crime scenes, and the bit of Cubano Miami flavor . The present action protagonist was okay, and the journals were intermittent. When they got into the magic stuff they were good. What I most loved about this book was the creepy and very realistic feel of the mostly Yoruba based shamanistic magic. Overall I enjoyed reading it, but the book could have benefited from some tightening up. The detective investigating this awful ritual crimes was very good too. If you like murder procedurals, and you like creepy well researched voodoo-esque magic, then give this a read.(less)
Since I'm such a vampire fan, having seen or read vast untold volumes of the stuff, I thought I should put my formal two-cents in on the strange sourc...moreSince I'm such a vampire fan, having seen or read vast untold volumes of the stuff, I thought I should put my formal two-cents in on the strange source material that spawned the Twilight phenomenon.
First the book. I read it before the movie came out. There was a lot of buzz about it already, and I was excited about it. Generally, things that are really popular have a kernel of quality about them, and I love vampires and teen heroines. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite TV series of all time -- I will blog about it one of these days. So I started reading Twilight in the Vegas airport while waiting for a flight. Despite the clunky prose (more on that later) I was actually pretty engaged in a low key way during the first half. Then Edward revealed to Bella that he was a vampire (not that I didn't know) and the whole thing went to shit. I had to force myself through most of the rest, and the ending left me baffled. "Wait, where'd the fight go? What about the climax?"
Back to the writing: It's really clunky. I won't go into too much detail, this other blogger did. But let me say Meyer is the anti Cormac McCarthy (I'm in the middle of The Road right now). He eschews punctuation, she loves it. Every long improper sentence is peppered with a random assortment of commas and em-dashes. She adores the em-dash, using it in approximately 50% of sentences, and usually not for its proper purpose of offsetting a parenthetical. Maybe she felt she had too many commas (she does), and needed to replace some of them with em-dashes for the hell of it. Oh, and she loves certain words or word combinations, like "cold fingers" and uses them several times a page in places. And she clearly choses random synonyms from the thesaurus without being aware of the connotations of said words. For example: "His expression shifted instantly to chagrin." Can the word be used that way? I don't think so. But none of this really matters when reading the book, you adjust and just role with it. I guess if you're 14 and haven't read a lot you don't notice to begin with.
The plot and content: Given what actually happens in the first book, it's pretty long: 118,000 words. Not much really does happen. We have a LOT of words devoted again and again to how pretty Edward is and how much Bella loves him. This isn't really SHOWN too much, or justified, but she sure TELLS us about it a lot. But again, the first half was okay. However, once the reveal came in, it gets really silly. Basically they go play this ridiculous baseball game and the Black Eyed Peas (oops, I mean the evil vampires) walk onto the field, sniff Bella, and decide the most important thing in the world is to sink their fangs into her blood. There is no real attempt to sell anything in this plot, to provide any believable reasons, it just happens. You couldn't possibly have more one dimensional villains -- although they do compliment the one dimensional heros nicely. Then my all time biggest gripe, we close in on the unbelievable "final" confrontation of the book and Bella gets knocked unconscious (she is after all the narrator) and we miss the whole thing. It's told to us by Edward after we know it came out okay so as to minimize tension. I had the feeling that the author didn't know how to write an action scene, so she just chickened out.
The vampires: Oh my. It's totally clear (particularly in later books) that Meyer doesn't do research. This includes even watching a few vampire films or perhaps reading Dracula. Her undead aren't really vampires, or even undead, except for being immortal and having a taste for blood, and "cold fingers." They don't seem dead, or particularly evil. They sparkle in the sun, they apparently have like, oh my God, no real weaknesses. And they're all really pretty. We hear about that a lot. Let's not forget their smorgasbord of cool psychic powers like seeing the future, and reading minds. These make hack plot construction really convenient. I actually started my novel a year before even hearing of Twilight, but reading it certainly motivated me to make sure my vampire heavy was a really bad-ass undead in a nasty evil way. He doesn't sparkle in the sunlight but he will leave your entrails hanging from a tree to make a point -- and he certainly wouldn't ever concern himself to learn current High School vernacular.
Publishing mystery: Twilight had a very aberrant publishing history. As a first time novelist it was picked up by Jodi Reamer of Writers House really quickly. This is a very prestigious agency and that's very rare. It was then sold quickly to a great publisher for a really huge advance. That Reamer showed interest in it is not what surprises me. There is a mysterious something about the first half of the book -- it had potential. But what surprises me is that it was never edited -- or if it was I've never heard of an editor that lax. The standard length for YA books is more like 50-70k, and there is a LOT of fluff in the book, not to mention the bad grammar and the flaccid ending that would be easy to fix. Having been through rounds and rounds of revision myself, the book was held to none of the standards my editors have exhibited. Of course it turned out to be a great decision for Jodi, but I still don't understand why it was never edited.
The movie: Catherine Hardwicke directed the first movie. She actually did a really good job with the source material, and I think the movie is actually better than the book. Not exactly great, but better. The casting was excellent, particularly Kristen Stewart who does have a soft charisma, and she's hot in a non obvious way. If you see her in some of her other films like Adventureland or Speak you realize that she's actually a very fine young actress in certain roles. Twilight doesn't provide a lot of room for subtle acting. I myself had casually known Hardwicke from when she did production design for Insomniac'sDisruptor in the mid 90's (Insomniac was located next to my company Naughty Dog in those days). So I'd noticed when she started directing with Thirteen, which is a depressing but brilliant movie -- particularly given what must have been a VERY low budget. Hardwicke brought the same kind of hand-held-documentary style to Twilight, and it worked well to offset the inherent cheese factor of the material. Not totally offset, but the result was somehow watchable. She did a nice job capturing Bella's POV. This is tricky because in a novel, particularly a first person one like Twilight, so much of the book is dominated by the voice. With a combination of diary style voice over (more-or-less quoted from the book) and a peeping-over-the-shoulder viewpoint (as also used in Thirteen) Hardwicke pulls it off. For some reason, they ditched her with regard to directing the sequels, and the those devolve into further cheesiness. Of course so do the later novels. Can I just say Volturi?
Conclusion: I'm kinda baffled. Twilight isn't particularly good, or well done, but it does have a certain appeal. However, the overall magnitude of success has left me totally confused. Harry Potter is ludicrously popular, but at its core rest three stunningly good initial books. The first book is really well written, the central premise is very novel and sold with incredible style. Even the ridiculously melodramatic Vampire Dairies is more fun than Twilight. I'm just left scratching my head and hoping the anti-vampire backlash isn't too bad.(less)
This new addition to the field of video game histories is a whirlwind tour of the medium from the 70s blips and blobs to the Facebook games of today,...moreThis new addition to the field of video game histories is a whirlwind tour of the medium from the 70s blips and blobs to the Facebook games of today, with everything in the middle included. Given the herculean task of covering 45+ years of gaming history in a completely serial fashion would probably result in about 4,000 pages, Goldberg has wisely chosen to snapshot pivotal stories. He seizes on some of the most important games, and even more importantly, the zany cast of creatives who made them.
My personal favorite is Chapter 8, "The Playstation's Crash" featuring none other than that lovable Bandicoot, myself, Jason, Mark Cerny and various other friends. This chapter covers loosely the same subject matter that Jason and I detail in our lengthy series of Crash blogs (found here). It's even 98% accurate! :-) If you enjoyed our Crash posts, I highly recommend you check out this book, as it includes not only some extra insights there, but 18 other chapters about other vitally important games or moments in gaming history.
These include old Atari, the great 80s crash, Mario, Tetris, EA, Adventure Games, Sierra Online, EverQuest, WOW, Bioshock, Rockstar, Bejeweled, and more. All are very entertaining, and focus heavily on the personalities behind the scenes -- and boy, are there personalities in this business! In many ways this reminds me of Hackers, which is dated, but was one of my favorite books on the 80s computer revolution.
The Pillars of Hercules is a very fun read and takes a serious stab at something I haven't really seen before and is very much up my alley. For lack o...moreThe Pillars of Hercules is a very fun read and takes a serious stab at something I haven't really seen before and is very much up my alley. For lack of a better term: bronze-punk.
What we have — for at least the first two thirds — is a combination alternate history and speculative technology book, set in 330 BC. Now this is a fun and tumultuous period, that of Alexander the Great and one which was to see (in real life) immense changes in the euro-Asian political scene which shaped the world we know. At the political level, David Constatine is clearly knowledgable and very fond of the period. He speculates on a number of specific deviances from real history: The success of Athens' disastrous (in real history) Sicilican campaign, giving rise to a stronger Athenian Empire. And the survival of both Phillip and Alexander past their fated dates. I found this play out fascinating and entirely reasonable.
To this, he adds a rather extreme amount of extended technology based both on secret discoveries from previous (read Atlantian) civilizations, and real ancient tech amplified by geniuses such as Aristotle who are astoundingly more practical (in the vein of Tony Stark x 1000) then their real life counterparts. Most of these inventions are weapons and war machines. Plenty of this tech does have precedents in the ancient world such as steam engines. But in a society where the cost of labor was nearly zero (slavery being more the rule than the exception) there was no impetuous for mechanization (That would take the depopulating effect of the middle ages and the plague to bring about). I found this stuff fantastic fun. But Constantine does take it a bit far for little purpose in the form of semi-sentient gear work golems and the like (not that I don't have clockwork men if my own in Untimed). The almost magic tech of the "gods" was also a little much. But it was good fun.
Against this rather magnificent backdrop we have an adventure and war story of lightning pace and heroic proportions. Point of view-wise about two-thirds of the story is told by a Gaulic mercenary who is along for the ride with a Persian noblewoman "in the know" about some of this extreme tech in her quest to stop Alexander from taking over the world. The big political scope of the book involves Alexander, having survived his in-real-life fatal illness/poisoning, and who goes on to try and conquer the Western Mediterranean from the Athenian Empire. In the other third of the narrative we see Akexander's plots and conquests through the eyes of a couple of his generals and foes. One of these, his right hand man, gets a good number of pages and has a developed POV. Most of the others serve as human cameras.
The first two-thirds of the book is therefore mostly glorious (and very fun) high swashbuckling action on the part of the merc or generals in the midst of a near-continuous series of huge battles, sieges, daring breakins, escapes, and naval chases. There isn't much focus here on emotions of character arcs. The characters aren't cardboard either, just fun, and free of internal serious flaws that need resolving. And the action is often so grand as to completely stretch the reality factor. But it is good fun and reminds me of some of the best Philip Jose Farmer.
Then at about the 70% mark most of the threads pass west of the titular Pillars of Hercules and things get weirder. Not that the pace of action lets up, but instead of being set in the likes of Alexandria, Athens, Syracuse, or Carthage, literally descends into a sort of mechanized Hades filled with machines of the gods. While well executed, and providing the book with a larger mythic framework, I personally can't help but think Constantine went too far. That the overall effect would have been a little more satisfying sticking to this fantastic world closer to our own.
While I'm waiting for the last bits of line editing on my almost-finished novel, The Darkening Dream, I've beenresearchingand outlining the next. Give...moreWhile I'm waiting for the last bits of line editing on my almost-finished novel, The Darkening Dream, I've been researching and outlining the next. Given that it's me, the new novel features both the historical and the fantastic. As to the historical: enter Ben Franklin. Who was one cool dude.
There's a reason why he's on the hundred dollar bill.
Now to reviewing this biography (I'll call it TFA). It's very well written, and easy enough to read. It's also LONG (800 dense pages). Now, Ben lived 84 years, from 1706 to 1790, and he was perhaps the best known and most highly diversified American of his era. So there's a lot to cover. As a printer/writer Ben left us a lot of his thoughts, and the book does a tremendous job capturing these, with long tracks of his writing embedded in the text. Lest you think this might be dry, he's a surprisingly witty and modern voice. Eerily so. The book could have used a little bit of trimming here and there -- but no more than 5-10%. It marches along steadily from Ben's parents to his death and legacy, covering everything in between. This is not a history of the Revolutionary War, but covers more Ben's role than the conflict itself. Good thing since that would've doubled the size. TFA does a good job characterizing the era, and particularly the politics of both Pennsylvania and London, and to a lesser extent Paris. It does a great job characterizing Ben.
But it's worth talking about Ben. He was a pretty amazing guy, as influential in his own wry was as those three aforementioned titans. And he didn't kill thousands or conquer nations doing it. Ben was a man of rare genius. Observant as to causes and effects, be it weather, electricity, ocean currents, politics, or business. And he's depicted here with all his very human faults. But fundamentally he was a spirit of curiosity, optimism, energy, and general good intentions. He wasn't the best husband or general, but he sures seems to have been one hell of a human being.(less)
A couple months ago one of the book/writing blogs I read featured an article about first chapters that included one from this book. It was unpublished...moreA couple months ago one of the book/writing blogs I read featured an article about first chapters that included one from this book. It was unpublished at the time, but I liked the first chapter enough to pre-order the book on Amazon. Liked it enough to actually read it yesterday when it came in the mail (one day before it was supposed to and the Kindle version wasn't out yet -- so for the first time in a little while I read on paper).
I knew I'd liked the first chapter for a reason. Besides the fact that it (the first chapter) featured a naked seventeen year-old girl, this was a fun book. And no there isn't much sex in here -- at least not for the characters that matter.
And the reason this is a good book... drumroll please... the characters. Particularly Amy, the female lead.
Left the old one, the right is new. Which would you pick? Personally, I hate photography on fiction covers. I like COVER ART. Call me old-school. Anyway.
Across the Universe (not to be confused with the movie of the same title), is about a girl who joins a generation ship as cryogenically frozen cargo (the ship will take 300 years to go to it's colonial destination) with her parents, but is accidentally woken early (alone) to find herself amongst a very strange society. The crew has been left to run the ship for centuries, and well nothing stays the same, certainly not human society over the course of generations.
The science here isn't the most innovative, but it is consistant and easy to grasp. I didn't totally buy the society and all it's premises. But it didn't really matter. The book is told in double first person view point, from Amy's POV and that of the young future captain of the ship (simplified explanation for review purposes). The POV's are very good, and stick tightly to single interwound storyline. The classic device of having a newcomer (Amy) works well to make the experience more visceral and personal, and this ties us as a reader into the story. It's also worth contrasting this with a more "mature" Science Fiction novel I read the day before, The Windup Girl (review HERE), which although Hugo and Nebula winning, and possessed of a MUCH more elaborate and interesting SciFi world, just isn't that fun to read. As the two main characters are literally the only people on the ship their age, they are fairly obviously in it together. I like the "forced" relationship device.
Again, because the character narrative is too fragmented. I like character. I like narrative. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Science Fiction, I've read thousands of them. I like elaborate worlds. But they're nothing without the glue to hold you there.
Now my small beefs. The book was too teasy on the sex. There was sex flying all around, we should've had some with the protagonists! I'm old school that way too. 60s, 70s, and 80s SciFi had lots of sex.
And the last 20% of the book started to get that we-have-reached-the-big-reveal-and-now-it's-all-going-to-feel-a-little-forced stage that many "big reveal" books have. I had this same beef recently with the otherwise perfect Dead Beautiful (review HERE). Still, I read Across the Universe in one sitting, literally, and I enjoyed it the whole way through. I love when this happens -- fairly rare as it is for a reader as jaded as I am -- it reminds me that there's still good writers out there.(less)
This is the second Holly Black book I've read. I enjoyed White Cat (REVIEW HERE) a lot and so I went back to read her debut novel. And liked it even m...moreThis is the second Holly Black book I've read. I enjoyed White Cat (REVIEW HERE) a lot and so I went back to read her debut novel. And liked it even more.
The similarities are striking. Both are short YA books, with nice prose and likable main characters thrown into 'weird' paranormal situations. Both have the action so condensed as to occasionally be confusing. Both wrap themselves up in the last quarter in a way that compromises the believability of the secondary characters. Both have unhappy but not completely tragic endings. While White Cat's premise is perhaps a tad more original, I found Tithe's creepy fairy flavor more to my taste. Not that I didn't like the first, but I really liked certain things about the second.
Tithe is written in third person past, with the protagonist Kaye dominating the POV. Mysteriously, approximately 5-10% is from the point of view of her friend Corny, and about 2% from the romantic interest. These outside POVs felt wrong, and at least in the Kindle version, no scene or chapter breaks announced the transitions. Every time one happened I was confused for a paragraph or two and knocked out of the story. Still, said story was more than good enough to overcome this minor technical glitch.
Kaye is an unhappy 16 year-old with a loser mom. When they move back to New Jersey she is rapidly involved with the Fey, discovers she's a green skinned pixie, and gets drawn into a conflict between the Seelie and Unseelie (rival fairy) courts. It's a fun read, and the prose is fast and evocative of the fey mood. Ms Black seemed to have done at least some research and the feel is quite good. The loose descriptive style sketches some rather fantastic creatures and scenarios, and that works. There is some darkness (which I like), and wham bam death of secondary characters without the proper emotional digestion. There is sexuality, but no sex (boo hiss!).
But I really like the way she handled the fairies. There isn't a lot of description, but what there was left me filling in my own detailed, sordid, and mysterious collage of imagery.
I was loving the first two third of the book, and then it pivoted a bit and lost me a little. Don't get me wrong, I still liked it, but the last third felt sketchier. The author had a bunch of double takes and betrayals on her outline, and it felt to me that it didn't really matter if the secondary characters got to be true to themselves -- they just followed the script. The protagonists best friend dies in like two seconds, and there is barely any reaction. Everyone also seemed to roll way too easily with the rather gigantic punches (as in Fairies are real). And to be darn good at picking up new powers in no time at all. This is a typical issue, and very hard to address perfectly, but it always bugs me when magic seems too easy. White Cat had the same final act issues.
It's still a fun book -- way above average -- with nice prose and breakneck pace. But the potential for great gave way to merely very good.(less)