I strongly suspect that this book is as famous as it is because of its groundbreaking innovation of magical realism. However, after popularizing thisI strongly suspect that this book is as famous as it is because of its groundbreaking innovation of magical realism. However, after popularizing this genre, there isn't much left in the book itself. It wasn't enjoyable. To its credit, it is well written and beautifully descriptive. It has no overt point that I can make out, nor any didactic purpose.
So I found it to be like a poem. Something you pick up and contemplate and may find engaging, but I can't say it will remain with me, nor was I itching to pick it up when I wasn't reading it....more
So wonderfully beautifully written. I could just sit forever and read Steinbeck discussing how he does his laundry and lays out his socks. The plot ofSo wonderfully beautifully written. I could just sit forever and read Steinbeck discussing how he does his laundry and lays out his socks. The plot of the book, however, was less potent. I loved his rolling intricate descriptions of Salinas Valley and of the daily life of a farmer. His knowledge of the nature and geography and of this long-lost rural lifestyle made me feel as if I was reading something pre-modern, before the advent of TVs and cars and the internet. I also loved his philosophical ramblings, and his psychological character portrayals. I loved how rich he was able to make Samuel Hamiltion and his wife Liza as characters. Whatever character Steinbeck focused on, they would invariably become rich, fully-formed, and unique.
I enjoyed the Biblical allusions of Cain and Abel, Charles and Adam, Caleb and Aron. But I enjoyed all that much less than the first half of the book that focused on the farming community of the Salinas valley. Ultimately, I think that Steinbeck's message is clear. With 'timshel', thou mayest, he is saying that the responsibility is on the individual. You have the free will and the responsibility to fight your evil nature. He makes it clear on page 147:
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.
Regarding criticisms, I agree with some of the most frequently cited ones. The oversimplification of the good vs evil narrative. The irrelevance of the Hamilton story to the book as a whole. The disjoint between the first and second halves of the book. The inconsistent first person narrator who jumps in and out randomly. The bungled attempt at a memoir that turns into a moralizing Biblical parable. I particularly disliked how the story of Cathy ends, in that it seems completely nonsensical and out of the character that he had laboured for several hundred pages to create.
These are some of my favourite passages that exemplify his beautiful style of writing:
Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing, or preparing like a fuse burning towards dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach,a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the grey, and the land and trees of him dark and sombre. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by, faceless and pale. And then - the glory - so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing, but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.
I don't know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective producing has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension towards a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be failure to him and his dying a cold horror....more
What is the point of this book? Is it to entertain? Is it to make a statement? Is it to teach us about ourselves? I may be cripplingly old fashioned inWhat is the point of this book? Is it to entertain? Is it to make a statement? Is it to teach us about ourselves? I may be cripplingly old fashioned in my taste, but what I learned about myself is that I'd rather not have to do hours of research to understand a book after reading it. Books, in my humble opinion, should either entertain us, or teach us something new, perhaps about ourselves or about human nature. For me, if a book has no didactic value, then it must be enjoyable. This was neither.
The writing is truly wonderful. The standard of the prose was on an entirely different level than what I usually read, and it was this alone that sustained me through to the end of this very short book. Passages like this in particular:
"San Narciso lay further south, near L.A. Like many named places in California it was less an identifiable city than a group of concepts - census tracts, special purpose bond-issue districts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to its own freeway."
His ability to set a scene is really unparalleled. It was just the topic, the purpose of the book, the series of absurd illogical unrelated events, that frustrates me. It reminded me of the movie Brazil, where everything is a bit absurd and where normal rational behaviour and reactions are purposely removed to give the viewer a sense of bewilderment.
Thanks to other reviewers, I've been able to glean some things and put together a desperate hypothesis of what I think this book was about. I now think that Inverarity named Oedipa his executrix so that he could coax her out of her middle class suburban existence. I think that Pynchon is portraying that existence as a sham, a facade, and therefore her husband does drugs to cope, and her psychiatrist whose job was to help her cope, (view spoiler)[turns out to be an ex-Nazi paranoid. (hide spoiler)]
I think that Pynchon may be making some sort of ambiguous statement about the nature of truth and about knowing - trying to capture the uncertainty of real life in an artform that typically shuns uncertainty in favour of clean-cut closure. But I can't be sure.
There are innumerable other elements in the book that mean something to Pynchon, and that people who have the time to make the effort have been trying to understand for 50 years. Freud, the Beetles, the Paranoids, the songs that are quoted, the Maxwell demon, the engineering office and patents, the WASTE system... a million little clues and an army of people who have put unbelievable, staggering, amounts of time and effort into figuring out, never to be sure of their ideas and conclusions. So what's the point?
I like to think of myself as a thinking man, and this book has been touted as a thinking man's book. But I fail to find the appeal in a book that divulges no secrets and makes no statements while you are reading it, requiring you to be in a classroom of people dissecting every chapter for you to have some semblance of certainty about what you are reading....more
I struggled between giving this 3 stars or 4. Ultimately went with 4 because it was an enjoyable read.
My main gripe about this book is that it takes aI struggled between giving this 3 stars or 4. Ultimately went with 4 because it was an enjoyable read.
My main gripe about this book is that it takes a good long while to draw you in. I didn't find the book compelling until about 200 pages in, when it suddenly became fantastic compelling stuff. The second half of the book is an emotional thrilling journey, the first is set-up and character building that just wasn't page-turning stuff, resulting in long gaps between readings, for me.
My second complaint is about the characters. They were all a bit one-dimensional. The main cast, Rodrigo, Ammar, Jehane, Alvar, and Husari, were the most well drawn of all, but their liberality and the way in which this was expressed seemed too anachronistic. Reading the banter between them was almost like watching an episode of Friends, at least in comparison to medieval Andalusia. Jehane the Kindath (Jewish) doctor would meet these guys and flirt with them almost immediately, the Ragosan king's ball portrayed almost like prom, the leading female characters 'strong' and dazzlingly beautiful in an almost cliche'd way. The author relied on wine-drinking as the chief signifier of who was a 'good guy' and who wasn't. It's just all a bit shallow - this group of pals who are liberals and a bit anti-war and like to hang out and drink lots of wine...
My third complaint is with Kay's overuse of stereotypes:
- All the people from Karch are described as blond and tall - All the "good Arabs" drink and the bedouins are blood thirsty and think of nothing but killing and maiming and raping - All the Kindath (Jews) are smart physicians - Half the people in this story seem to have blue eyes
My main issue with the stereotypes is with how the Arabs, or Muslims are portrayed. Being an Arab reader, I was particularly sensitive to this, and it's possible that I was looking for bias or am seeing it where it doesn't exist - however, the bedouins from the Majriti desert are represented in an almost comically one-dimensional fashion. Typical cardboard Arab badboys. They think in simple terms. They love to kill. They love to rape. Ghalib of the Zuhrite tribe is just a vicious bloodthirsty 90s-movie villain. They aren't humanized anywhere near as much as the Jaddite horsemen are.
Another point of contention is that the author portrays the Kindath as the physicians. This is actually historically incorrect. The famous physicians and scientists from Andalusia were nearly all Muslims - Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Tufail, Al-Zuhri, Ibn Hazm (proposed a spherical earth), Al-Jabali, Ibn al-Qattani, Ibn Juljul (wrote on pharmacology), Ibn al-Thahabi (wrote the first encyclopedia of medicine). These are just a few, and all from Al-Andalus!
In fact, Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) was a surgeon and physician in Andalusia from the Arab Banu Zuhr tribe, almost certainly the inspiration of the Zuhrite nomads in the book. His writings on medicine and evidence-based treatment are almost a perfect stand-in for the world-famous Kindath physician in the book, Jehane's father.
What's more, the bedouin are represented as almost fanatically bloodthirsty towards the Jews. The Jaddites are represented this way as well, but to a lesser degree. This is another historical issue that was handled without accuracy or sensitivity, as the Jews were expelled with the Moors out of Iberia, and into North Africa and the Middle East where they then dwelt for the next 500 years until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forced them out.
Some reviewers have complained that the book was unpredictable and it was difficult to see where it was going. I think that to anyone who has read about Andalusia (as is common in the Middle East), it was obvious right from the start where the book was heading, and that the author's stereotypes of each group were not accurate. I may be over-stating the issue here and taking offence at nothing, but frankly with all the media out there in this day and age, it would've been nice for once to find Arabs and Muslims humanized, or at least portrayed accurately. Instead, we get the bloodthirsty beetle-eating nutbags, but our scientists, philosophers, and physicians are not represented.
I watched the documentary in 2005 and loved it, but forgot most of it by 2016.
The book is short and a quick read, and should be required reading in buI watched the documentary in 2005 and loved it, but forgot most of it by 2016.
The book is short and a quick read, and should be required reading in business schools across the globe. The crux of the argument is that the corporation is an externalizing (more on this later) pathological entity. Some of the most important topics discusses were:
-- The nature of the corporation, the history behind the corporate form, and how the corporation acquired legal personhood. I was shocked to read that corporations were banned in Britain from the Bubble Act of 1720 up until its repeal in 1825. It's extremely interesting to read early critiques of the corporate form dating back to the 1600s. Even Adam Smith criticized them in The Wealth of Nations, even though they were still banned when he published his book in 1776! The corporation was born through scam companies that "jobbers" sold shares of to gullible customers in Exchange Alley in London. At the start they were mainly used for state and imperial purposes, such as the Hudson's Bay Company, the East India Company, and the South Sea Company. These were chartered by the crown to run as state monopolies in the colonies of the British empire. Corporations began to flourish only through mega investment projects like railroads that required more capital than traditional partnerships could provide, and in 9 years between 1781 and 1790, "the number of corporations grew tenfold, from 33 to 328." p. 9
-- Limited Liability Prior to the invention of limited liability, any investor was personally liable, without limit, to the company's debts if it failed. This made investment in shares extremely unattractive for most ordinary people. Limited liability was pushed because it would allow corporations to raise enormous sums from middle-class people, and was touted by its supporters as a great equalizer of men, because it would allow the middle-classes to partake in an activity heretofore solely reserved to the wealthy. The Select Committee on Partnerships (England) in 1851 pinned their support on the "self-respect" that this would bring to people, and that it would help "preserve order" by encouraging these plebs to respect private property and the law out of their own economic self-interest. It was vehemently opposed by some in England, with one parliamentarian stating that it would ""enable persons to embark in trade with a limited chance of loss, but with an unlimited chance of gain" and thus encourage "a system of vicious and improvident speculation."" p. 13
-- Corporate Social Responsibility The author punches holes into the self-aggrandizing statements of CSR marketing by interviewing and quoting a wide array of economists and CEOs to show that CSR is never about doing good. He touches upon the history of 'corporate primacy' to show that legally, the one and only mandate of a corporation is to seek wealth for its shareholders. CSR is only pursued if it can help the corporation gain wealth. Therefore, like a psychopath, the corporation understands the rational necessity for CSR, but only does it out of self gain, and crushes the CSR program immediately if it clashes with profit or possibly profitable new ventures. He uses BP as a fantastic example of a corporation claiming environmental credentials, to the point of receiving an environmental award from the UN in 1999 (!), while actively destroying the environment elsewhere in the world and repeatedly cheating safety regulations. His descriptions of BP safety and procedural violations are like reading a horrible prophecy of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill 6 years later.
-- Corporate Primacy This is the notion that the one and only mandate of any corporation is to create a profit for its shareholders. He discusses Dodge vs Ford and Hutton v. West Cork Railway Company and again quotes people like Milton Friedman, CEOs, corporate lawyers, and the American Bar Association to show that corporate primacy is drilled into the fabric of modern businesses, or "universally accepted as a kind of divine, unchallengeable truth." p. 39
-- Externalization An externality is a 'coolly technical economic jargon' whereby all social and environmental impacts are written off by companies as 'externalities', or 'someone else's problem'. This is an incredible chapter, and the author brings up the infamous example of General Motors giving human life a price of $200,000 in the 70s. GM knowingly designed a fuel tank defectively to save costs, then calculated that each lawsuit from a death would cost the company $200,000. If you predict 500 such deaths per year, you can find out how much GM will have to pay annually for its defective fuel tank killing people willy nilly. They calculated that this was cheaper than fitting in properly designed fuel tanks onto their cars. They thus turned human death into a cost-benefit analysis.
-- The pharmaceutical industry I will summarize this entire section with this one line: "Developing drugs to deal with personality disorders in family pets seems to have a higher priority than controlling diseases that kill millions of human beings each year." p.49
-- Corporations and morality This section is long and discusses many different aspects. The under-funding of watchdogs and regulatory bodies, the view amongst most corporations that obeying the law or regulations is simply a cost-benefit question, the taking of fines as a business expense that is cheaper than adhering to the regulation in the first place, the power of lobbying and corporate wealth to influence regulation, and again, the legal focus on shareholder primacy and the lack of any legal impetus towards morality whatsoever. As usual, the meticulous author provides numerous examples of real-life corporate rule-breaking, and lists an absolutely jaw-dropping hair-raising list of violations and illegal activity by General Electric between 1990 and 2001.
-- Marketing to children This is a particularly nasty section, where the author discusses the techniques developed to extract money through children - the Nag Factor. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that children cannot distinguish between advertising and regular programming, and the author states that "children's susceptibility to advertising is exactly what makes them such appealing targets. Within the psychopathic world of the corporation, vulnerability is an invitation to exploit, not a reason to protect." p. 122. Bakan also discusses here some of the chilling cases where corporations have actually changed school curricula and textbooks in their own favour.
-- Undercover marketing A short section that discusses the prevalence of marketing and the "increasing normalization and acceptance of commercialization in virtually every area of life." p. 138
-- Consumer democracy / shareholder democracy This is an extremely important section where the author argues against the most prominent proposals on how to make corporations more moral law-abiding entities. In short, he argues that consumer democracy simply transforms actual democracy, where each person has 1 vote, to a system where each dollar is a vote. Therefore, those with the most wealthy have the loudest voice, and frequently their objectives and goals are what is best for profit and shareholder primacy, not what is good for society. If our societal mantra is that individual greed leads to public good, then how can we expect the wealthy to vote with their dollars for the public good?
-- Charter revocation laws This is briefly mentioned. I'm sure most readers don't know, as I didn't, that corporate law statutes allow governments to kill off corporations that have broken the law. The author provides statistics to show that this is regularly done to small corporations, but never to large ones, again allowing them to break the law with impunity.
My only qualms with the book are the somewhat wooden language of the author, undoubtedly caused by his profession as a law professor, and the lack of strong organization to the book. I would have liked more clearly delineated ideas with headings and perhaps a glossary. The book seems to ramble on from one subject to another bombarding the reader with examples and quotes and data, and it would therefore benefit from stronger chapter breaks.
Overall, however, this is an invaluable book, a true must-read if I've ever seen one. I wish more was written on this subject matter. I began the book thinking that the author was just using hyperbole and strong language to attract readers, and came away from it convinced that corporations are indeed pathological entities in society....more
I enjoyed this more than the 1st book, happy to say. Many of my complaints regarding the 1st were quite improved in this one. The only problem was theI enjoyed this more than the 1st book, happy to say. Many of my complaints regarding the 1st were quite improved in this one. The only problem was the last 200 pages. And the 200 before that were a bit mixed as well.
My first complaint about the previous book was that Kvothe seemed to be too much of an adolescent wish-fulfilment character. He was good at everything and pretentious and arrogant. I'm happy to report that this has been mostly toned down in this book. He fails liberally, loses embarrassingly, and at no points in the book did he magic his way out of a situation through overpowering brilliance. Any brilliance he exhibited in this book was as a result of hard work and training, which brought a sense of believability that was lacking in the first book. Except for the sex. I'll come back to that when I talk about the things I disliked.
Another one of my criticisms from the 1st book was regarding the quality of the antagonists. This criticism still stands at the moment, although there were a few other antagonists in this one and they weren't cardboard cut-out template-characters. Ambrose remains a weak character, but at least the Chandrian are mysterious enough to bear some ambivalence.
I then criticized the two-dimensionality of the supporting cast of friends. I'm pleased to report that they have become quite a bit more 3-dimensional here, although not by a huge amount. Sim still seems like a copy of Ron from Harry Potter. Ambrose is still Malfoy, but I hope to God that the Chandrian aren't just a replacement for Voldemort.
I also criticized the songs. I think these were improved in this book.
I also criticized the romance. Whilst this was also generally improved this time around, this brings us to the first major weakness in the story: the sex. There was far too much sexy times in this book for this type of fantasy novel, and while it was never explicit or graphic in any way, it was just redundant adolescent wish-fulfilment. It was like the author minimized the protagonist's over-the-top abilities and intelligence, only to channel all of that into his sexual prowess. It felt contrived and unnecessary, took far too much time, and didn't really add anything to the story. Plus it was revisited several times to the point where I had to raise my eyebrows at times and wonder whether this was a transcript of a talk show. The scene with (view spoiler)[Felurian didn't add much to the story in my opinion. So the boy got a sex tutor. Seems a bit out of place, but ok. Then he becomes a veritable sex machine, and I felt like the author was working something out of his system. (hide spoiler)]
My second criticism of this novel was the last 200 pages. Like in the first, the author begins to rush towards the end, cramming in huge plot points right to the end at unsatisfactory speed and with unsatisfactory resolution. Everything up until (view spoiler)[ he leaves Ademre is good. I enjoyed it all immensely except for Felurian but at this point it was great. Then he rushes off in a whirlwind and meets the caravaners and returns the girls and gets jilted by the Maer and goes back to the university. It all happens in such a whirlwind that it makes the Felurian scenes seem highly indulgent by comparison. Why spend so much time on training the boy to have sex when the caravan scene and Maer conflict are wrapped up in a fraction of the time? The worst scene of all was the one with Sim and Fela where they just have a chat about Kvothe's sex life. The whole thing stank. It was contrived and cheesy. "The way you look at me lately is just physical," she tells him. Unless the author plans to make some sort of love-crossed triangle of betrayal and romance between these three, I really think that scene was weak and totally unnecessary. All it did, its entire function, was to belabour the point that Kvothe has become a sex machine and was bedding everyone in town. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I think Rothfuss' strength lies in his world creation. The world itself is intriguing, the cultures believable and rich, and the magic system is probably one of the best things about the book. The plotting is thorough, the foreshadowing is well done. The greatest weakness is in the characters themselves. A few template-characters hurt the overall quality, but the really weak area is in the way the author seems to be working out his own fantasies through the protagonist, being the cleverest boy in school, being the toughest and most tenacious, being a rebel badass, getting private tutoring by a 3000-year old sex goddess, bedding all the women in 2 cities... these would all be great if they were done with a smidgen of temperance, but each time he takes it from cool to over-the-top.
Still, it was a fun read and I can't wait for the 3rd. I'm not sure how he is planning on resolving the huge issues that remain in the story: (view spoiler)[ why Kvothe is dying, how he gets expelled, how he gets an education if he's only been there 1 year, how he finds the Amyr through the Maer, how he finds and faces the Chandrian, how he comes to be the kingkiller, and how he settles his love affair with Denna. (hide spoiler)] I hope he doesn't cram all of this into 1 book just to have a trilogy. ...more
I won't summarize the book. Instead, I'll just discuss its merits and flaws. The book begins very well. The premise is intriguing, the start is compelI won't summarize the book. Instead, I'll just discuss its merits and flaws. The book begins very well. The premise is intriguing, the start is compelling and believable and draws you right in. The scene that sets our warring world some time in the future works well, and all you really need to know is that an enormous ship, The Mayflower II, sets out for the planet Chiron. A brilliant scientist had sent a ship there some decades earlier filled with robots and babies. Thus the story's tropes and main premise is laid out: earth is all at war and destroyed, a vast vessel carrying a mirror image of modern American society is sent to colonize a planet. This planet is a convenient blank slate. The babies that were sent there were raised by robots. They have no modern conventions or habits or prejudices to learn from their parents and existing society. Until now, the book is intriguing. Unfortunately, it all withers out as soon as the colonists arrive on the blank slate planet.
The greatest flaw in the book is most certainly with the Chironian world that Hogan has concocted. I'm disappointed to say that it is simply weak. The lovely style and compelling narrative of the start of the book crumbles apart when the ship finally arrives at Chiron. The author takes on a lecturing tone, the new world is a utopia, everyone is smart, everyone is skilled, everyone is content. The world appears to me to be totally shallow. I can't help but compare Hogan's anarchist utopia with Ursula Le Guin's anarchist world in The Dispossessed. Le Guin doesn't create a simplistic utopia modelled on a recognizable American city, but a real place with well thought out believable problems and societal ills. Le Guin's world reveals a deep understanding of human psychology and society and the often petty motivations our egos harbour. She portrays an anarchist society with believable problems of majoritarianism, mob rule, herd mentality, where egos and a sense of inferiority can still have a detrimental effect on society even if there are no possessions and everything is shared. In Hogan's world, by contrast, the world appears flawless, a fresh new beginning where the first colonizers were brought up by robots. A perfect blank slate. And yet they build homes seemingly to traditional American architectural styles, they speak normal American English, and despite having no established social conventions whatsoever to learn from the machines on this new planet, they somehow find no better way to socialize in the evenings than in bars. Hogan's lecturing about the Chironian culture's currency not being money but competence is left rather flat when the American colonizers arriving on the Mayflower II can walk right off their ship after a 20 year journey to a completely recognizable bar complete with totally mundane bartenders and waiters as we all know them. As if going to an American bar is some sort of physical law of entertainment that all cultures will inevitably develop independently. This seems really flat and difficult to believe after reading Le Guin's public mess halls where everyone serves themselves and the cooks are grumpy everyday workers filling in a day's work like anyone else. Hogan's bartenders meanwhile are just everyday folk who couldn't stomach living freely off society and decided at the age of 10 to spend their lives mastering the intricate arts of bartending as a way to "give back". The premise is that in Chironian culture, everyone starts to feel ashamed by the age of 10 of living without contributing anything, and that feeling then drives them to work and select careers. They continue to do this because they respect mastery and learning. This is all just childishly simplistic and unconvincing when you compare it with how Le Guin explored labour and work, how she explored the power of language to affect social conventions. In Le Guin's world, the anarchists create their own architecture and devise a language devoid of personal pronouns to erase the idea of personal possession. She explores the effects on relationships and on child-rearing. In Hogan's, this just means everyone has lots of guiltless sex and are able somehow to use '70s pop-culture references. Everything is the same as 1970s-80s America except everyone is awesome and enlightened.
"The whole planet, [Colman] realized as he reflected on it, was a powerhouse of progress, unchecked by any traditions of unreason and with no vested-interest obstructionists to hold it back. If the pattern continued until Chiron became a fully populated world, it would effectively leave Earth back in the Stone Age within a century." P. 221
Another element that irritated me to no end was Hogan's simplistic portrayal of religion, as well as the psychological buffoonery of the attempted colonizers. The colonizers on the Mayflower II are impossibly obtuse. Some critics have lauded this as first rate comedy, bitingly clever in its indictment of modern society. I, on the other hand, found it eye-roll-inducingly tedious that an advanced society meant to satirize our own can create an enormous spacecraft to fly tens of thousands of human beings 20 years across galaxies to colonize another planet, but somehow lacks the intelligence to even understand or comprehend the societal structure they find on Chiron. As if our current society is completely devoid of the concepts of libertarianism or anarchism or socialism. The narrative symbol for modern American society, the people on board the Mayflower hold endless meetings to ruminate upon the society they have found; "where are their leaders??" they ask incredulously ad nauseum. They embarrass themselves repeatedly in front of the Chironians with their pomp and pageantry that the author obviously intends to be seen as hollow and pathetic. The author's pedantic lecturing style when introducing Chiron and its culture is at its worst when it comes to religion. It has the tone and all the intellectual gravitas of a 15 year-old's newly discovered atheism. The bumbling buffoon of a Priest runs around the streets of the planet's capital city, perhaps in an homage to Zarathustra, hysterically yelling at people to believe in God, in what I'm sure the author thought was a compelling and powerful scene. The Priest's yelling is taken seriously by a young boy who then engages him in formal argument like an ancient Greek rhetorician. Armed with the twin enlightening powers of science and logic, the young boy frowns in frustration as he simply cannot see any reason to believe something that cannot be seen. The Priest then smugly asks the boy why people believe in the atom if it can't be seen. Then the boy dramatically and gloriously takes him down by pointing out that atoms, unlike this thing called God, have evidence behind them that can be measured and tested. Checkmate religion. He then waists no time in dissecting the fallacious logic of the Trinitarian God that the Priest is arguing for. The whole thing comes off as 9th-grade level debate, and the dramatic scene intended to hit the reader with the force of pure reason and superior argumentation and force him to experience an epiphany on the absurdity of religious belief, falls flat on its face.
Overall, I'm happy to have read this book as it is considered a classic of the genre. I found the premise underlying the story to be compelling. I simply couldn't stomach the author's lecturing style, the simplistic utopia he designs that is totally devoid of depth, and his overt scientism. All the good characters "believe" in science and logic. All the bad ones are politicians or religious figures. Most disappointing is that the book fails to explore what it promotes thoroughly, it doesn't make a convincing argument for it. It doesn't really explore what life would be like in an anarchist society. It doesn't give any answers. It doesn't tell you how to get there, but instead Chironian culture is created by a set of babies sent on a spacecraft without adults, in what the author argues is a new step in evolution brought about by heretofore non-existent conditions. It doesn't go into much detail about how this society functions, other than the fact that everything is free and everyone is hardworking and happy and productive. All it really does is poo poo modern society a bit and provide wish fulfilment for people who fantasize about seeing politicians and world leaders exposed and made to look ridiculous.
Finally, a spoiler regarding the ending: (view spoiler)[there is seemingly an enormous contradiction in the end of the book. The Chironians avoid hierarchy in their associations and society, yet after the Mayflower II mission is declared complete and all of its staff have become converted Chironians, the new mission seems to contradict everything they have learned. They set the new mission, to go back to earth, and then swiftly and proudly announce the same positions as when they had come to Chiron! Nothing has changed! All they did was replace the previous Chief of Engineering and Chief of this and Chief of that, with a bunch of new Chiefs from the list of favoured characters. It's a mind-boggling flaw. The entire point of the book is that the earthlings learn the Chironian anarchist ways and realize the error in their own societal structure, and yet as soon as they declare a new mission they immediately revert to the same hierarchical bureaucratic positions as they had at the start. (hide spoiler)]...more
I read this book on a Greek island beach in 5 days. It was after a tough period at work and I wanted something to escape into and just forget about reI read this book on a Greek island beach in 5 days. It was after a tough period at work and I wanted something to escape into and just forget about real life for a moment. For that purpose it was a great success. It was fun, engaging. I wouldn't say it is classic literature, or the best of this genre, but it certainly served its purpose. On the topic of the prose, I thought it was quite good, with the exception of the songs that seemed a bit bumbling to be honest with you. Now here are the negatives:
While I certainly enjoyed the book and intend to read the 2nd, I'm beginning to worry a bit about the modern fantasy genre penchant for brilliant young boys. It seems to be a new theme where a protagonist is born talented to the ears, an astonishingly brilliant badass who has to go through some hard knocks in life, but ultimately establishes himself as a desirable lady-magnet and focus of hatred for all other young males - especially rich ones. While the book is not Harry Potter, I couldn't help but note Kvothe, born better than everyone else, going to school where the chicks are falling for him left and right, becoming the nemesis of a rich blonde dandy son of a noble and drastically inferior in his talents. Ambrose is like a mirror image of Malfoy. So I worry a bit about whether I'm enjoying this simply for its wish-fulfilment or for emotional masturbation. Enjoy it I did, however, despite the overbearing adolescent fantasy quality and cliches of brilliant adolescents dazzling everyone as soon as they're born or go to school. As other reviewers have noted, one does come away with a sense of cheap wish fulfilment, but overall it is also very enjoyable and well written.
This seems to be some sort of weird product of American culture. There seems to be an obsession in the US of the unearned, being born better than everyone else, a misunderstood genius. It pervades all American art, from the superheroes of Marvel and DC like Superman and the X-men mutants and Tony Stark, to modern TV shows like Suits, Numbers, the Mentalist, Psych, House, the Big Bang Theory, Malcolm In the Middle, Independence Day, Star Wars... it's not enough to be a regular guy in a predicament anymore; you have to be a prodigy dripping with badassery. Either gifted with more intelligence than anyone else or more skill. Preferably poor or from a rough background. I feel that this trope is much rarer in European film, television, and literature.
Kvothe definitely has the air of The Chosen One, or Misunderstood Genius, whilst Ambrose is a Malfoy, Simmon is the goofy best friend like Ron or the trope of The Cynic, and Wilem doesn't really have enough character yet to be defined as anything more than a generic additional friend-character.
I was also annoyed to no end by the cringeworthy romance. It was really cheesy and contrived, and I had to struggle to believe that the women the protagonist was 'courting' were actually smitten by his dry-as-bread flirtation. Another fault was in how the author chooses to explain just how badass Kvothe is. His achievements were made lame by the fact that the readers would often discover them through a star-struck character asking Kvothe if the story was true. "Did you really learn X language completely in 1 day?" "Why yes I did, although naturally one never learns a language completely." This sort of faux-humility was very tiresome, but luckily it decreases as the book progresses. Nevertheless thinking on it after reading, I realize that at the back of my mind I was annoyed by the author's decision to make this into a sort of memoir when the leading protagonist is also a demigod. It gives the impression of a session of boasting. Like the ego-stroking memoirs of a president listing his own accomplishments. This may be less annoying, however, as the series continues and we find out why Kvothe is a barkeep.
Finally, the ending just fizzles out unexpectedly, as if the whole series is already written and the author just decided that 662 pages was a good reasonable point for people to take a break. The narrative rushes toward the end of the book quickly raising important plot points out of thin air as if desperately trying to entice the reader to pick up the next book. ...more