This story is, at its essence, about how the past influences the present. The protagonists are driven to reclaim their homeland not just from a conqueThis story is, at its essence, about how the past influences the present. The protagonists are driven to reclaim their homeland not just from a conquering army, but from a magical spell that prevents others from remembering or even hearing their homeland's name, Tigana. Within a generation any knowledge of their land, its history and culture will be forever lost.
Instead of a fast paced, sword and sorcery story, Tigana is rather reflective. There are several POV characters that spend a good deal of the text thinking back on their past actions, ruminating on how that has influenced their lives, and how that impacts the decisions they make. Memory and legacy plays a very central role in this story.
What I liked:
Setting: I found the world Tigana takes place in very fascinating. The Palm, where the story takes place, very much reminded me of Renaissance Italy, with a somewhat common culture found across the land but the peninsula was divided into multiple competing provinces. Much like Renaissance Italy, these division led to it being weak and dominated by foreign empires. The Palm was rather weak in magic, contributing to its domination by the more magically powerful foreign empires. In this way I was reminded of Africa and European colonial powers with magic serving as a stand in for technology.
The culture of the Palm was also very fascinating, with religion and customs that felt fresh and were well integrated into the culture of the Palm and the story itself.
Writing style: I am a big fan of Kay's writing style, having adored both Under Heaven and River of Stars. Tigana, while perhaps not has beautifully written as these two, still had some great prose and vivid imagery.
Unique Story: I liked Kay's twist on the age old "Defeat the evil emperor and free the land" trope. Instead of driving out the evil warlord, our erstwhile heroes must not only kill an immensely powerful sorcerer, but also kill a second one as well least the entire Palm fall under the domination of a foreign power. The heroes don't have a secret army they are marshaling or terribly powerful magics of their own, they must instead subtly influence events to bring about their goals. Misdirection, small pokes here and there are needed to win the day instead of the typical climatic encounter with the big bad boss.
What I thought was a bit weak:
Characters: Don't get me wrong, the characters weren't flat or two dimensional. They were, for the most part, interesting and complex. My issue with them is that they were a bit too pure. I didn't see very many flaws in them. They were almost too pure in their motivations, more in the class of Tolkien's heroes instead of the more modern and nuanced characters you will find in fantasy. The Prince is ever noble, his friends are ever loyal, and nary a thought is given to anything less than some high ideal of restoring Tigana.
I will say, however, that I really liked the POV of one of the conquering Tyrants. The dude was 125% pure ambition. It was nice to read the perspective of such a base and power hungry (though also very disciplined and rational) character. The book should have had more of him in it.
Magic: I am a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson. What I particularly like about his writing is that he lays out the abilities and limitations of magic in his world. That way the use of magic doesn't come off as a Deus Ex Machina. The magic in Tigana was very vague and unspecified. There were hints and indications about what some of it could do (weaken a large number of people, teleportation, blow people up, immunity to poison, shield from projectiles, etc.) but nothing was really laid out as hard and fast rules. As such, I would the magical confrontation in the end a bit underwhelming because I had no basis for assessing the battle. When magic is kept vague I get no sense of its importance when it is unleashed.
The Big Plan: As I stated above the heroes can't really meet the Tyrants force for force, so they have to carefully manipulate events. Then there is a huge change in the balance of power on the Palm potentially jeopardizing The Plan. However, it didn't seem to me that much, if anything really changed and our heroes' plans. It felt to me that the Last Prince of Tigana was a master of Zanatos Speed Chess and there was actually no risk at all to the plan. Sort of felt a bit anticlimatic, that the big plan they had been setting up since way before the book started didn't get changed much at all as circumstances changed. It just seemed to go a pit too smoothly.
All in all this was still a nice change of pace from most Fantasy novels out there (slower, more reflective) and was a very enjoyable read for me. I would suggest setting aside chunks of time to read this as you will likely not be able to fully appreciate its style by reading it in small chunks....more
I have often felt that web-comics (such as Digger) really embody the idea that "If you want to sell something, you have to give it away for free."
WhenI have often felt that web-comics (such as Digger) really embody the idea that "If you want to sell something, you have to give it away for free."
When I first encountered Digger (I can't recall where), only the first 75ish pages were available for free viewing. At the time I was following plenty of other free web comics and didn't think it was worth paying for. Sure it was a pretty interesting story of a no-nonsense wombat getting magically transported to a land very far from home and her quest to return there, but I didn't think it was good enough to pay a subscription fee for it.
Fast forward several years and I stumble across Digger again, now free to view as the artist (the amazing Ursula Vernon) was closing in on the ending.
Sufficed to say I was captivated by the story, the art, the characters, the message... really everything about it. The black and white art is gorgeous and masterfully used. The characters come alive off the page and feel just as real as any character in a book I have read. The world Vernon has created was saturated with amazing and novel ideas and creations (such as the mythology of the Hyena tribe).
But what I thought was most endearing about the Digger series was the many positive messages it conveyed (loyalty to friends, respect to others, proactive attitudes to solving problems, not to mention a kick-ass female protagonist). I think one of my favorite pages, not just from Digger but from any web-comic, dealt with morality, amazingly and concisely explained.
This series made me laugh, cry, and think. It also made me rush out to not only buy all the books, but also support a kickstarter that got all the books published in one glorious hardcover. Remember what I said before? The only way to sell something is to give it away for free and boy did Digger achieve that with me. I cannot recommend this series highly enough. ...more
"There are cannibals in every building," said the driver. "Welcome to Leningrad. Now step aside."
If there is a more miserable place in the 20th centu
"There are cannibals in every building," said the driver. "Welcome to Leningrad. Now step aside."
If there is a more miserable place in the 20th century than winter 1942 Leningrad apart from Nazi death camps, I am unaware of it. Cut off from the outside world and bombarded by the Germans the citizens of Leningrad (or Piter as the natives call it, short for the city's old name, St. Petersburg) must also endure the world famous Russian winter.
There were two theories on the fat versus the thin. Some said those who were fat before the war stood a better chance of survival: a week without food would not transform a plump man into a skeleton. Others said skinny people were more accustomed to eating little and could better handle the shock of starvation. I stood in the later camp, purely out of self-interest.
Not a great situation for young Lev Beniov to find himself in, especially since he was also Jewish (well, half Jewish, a distinction I doubt the Nazis would take into account), not exactly at the top of the Nazi's favorite tribes. On top of all that he gets picked up by the local police for looting the body of a dead German pilot. Usually this leads to a free bullet in the brain but instead Lev ends up in a cell with an accused deserter, Kolya, who insists he was just away from his unit to defend his literature thesis.
Kolya is everything Lev is not: tall, strong, self confident, a bit of a braggart, and blonder than a Nazi's wet dream. Sufficed to say, they do not get along famously sharing that cell. Instead of being greeted with a early invite to the afterlife care of the Russian secret police, they are offered a peculiar deal by a colonel of the secret police: find a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding or lose their ration cards and access to food. "You're both thieves. Bad thieves, that's true, incompetent thieves, absolutely, but you're in luck. The good thieves haven't been caught."
So this odd couple must strike out and scour the city in search of the impossible treasure of eggs. We learn more about Lev and Koyla. Lev's father was a not inconsequential poet that was liquidated by the secret police, Lev himself is a very self conscious virgin, and rather meek. Kolya is a self confident smooth talker, able to get along with anybody, very proud of his literary learnings and his worldly ways. "I had expected nothing less - Kolya was a great salesman, especially when he was selling himself."
Naturally the collection of the eggs is not as simple as strolling down to the local market. Lev and Kolya must travel far a field in their quest, eventually getting caught up in the greater sweep of the war. As they spend more time together a grudging level of respect and understanding grew between them. "In spite of all his irritating qualities, I couldn't help liking a man who despised a fictional character with such passion."
I really like how Benioff built up both Lev and Koyla. They were both very deep characters in their own way. From Lev's perspective we see all the doubts and fears that haunt a teenager in a war torn land facing death. He was a complex character, carrying his father's legacy and the legacy of his people with him while also trying to make some meaning in the world. I was cursed with the pessimism of both the Russians and the Jews, two of the gloomiest tribes in the world.
War is not glamorized: it is ugly, merciless, terror inducing, and savage. Sadly for Lev, he had to learn this first hand.
Five days ago an account of this expedition would have seemed like the great adventure I'd been waiting for since the war began. But now, in the middle of it, I wished I'd left in September with my mother and sister.
Koyla was a very fun character. With a devil may care attitude and a silver tongue to back it up he serves as an excellent foil to Lev's timidness and uncertainty. His continued harping on literature and culture is quite courageous in the face of man's worst inhumanities.
This, I came to learn, was his gift: danger made him calm. Around him people would deal with their terror in the usual ways: stoicism, hysteria, false joviality, or some combination of the three. But Kolya, I think, never completely believed in any of it. Everything about the war was ridiculous: the Germans' barbarity, the Party's propaganda, the crossfire of incendiary bullets that lit the nighttime sky. It all seemed to him life someone else's story, an amazingly detailed story that he had stumbled into and now could not escape.
Koyla could be a complete jackass to Lev, but instead treats him as a kid brother who needs his older brother's wisdom about the ways of the world. This bond only strengthens as they face obstacle after obstacle. I really liked their bromance (view spoiler)[ and thought it was quite unnecessary to have Koyla die just as they get back to Leningrad. Come on authors, happy endings are OK (hide spoiler)].
On top of the great character chemistry and plot pacing, I really liked Benioff's prose. Some of passages I enjoyed:
The place was an antifortress, designed to keep the enemies inside.
I've always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.
"Jokes only get old if they're good. Otherwise, who keeps telling them.?"
All in all a great, brisk novel about a terrible time and an odd quest that risks the life and limbs of very enjoyable protagonists. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I am afraid to report that I found the final installment of The Southern Reach Trilogy to be a disappointment and let down. After really enjoying theI am afraid to report that I found the final installment of The Southern Reach Trilogy to be a disappointment and let down. After really enjoying the first two books in this series, Annihilation and Authority this verdict pains me. VanderMeer succeeded in creating this weird, amazing world populated by fascinating characters. But all the promise and potential of the first two books were squandered, in my opinion, by Acceptance's ending.
Spoilers for the series and this book follow, so be wary.
The first two books were told from one point of view, the Biologist and Control respectively. This allows VanderMeer to establish a very specific atmosphere for each of these books: a strange, alien, yet seemingly pristine, natural environmental for Annihilation and a byzantine bureaucratic labyrinth that Control must get control of in Authority. Acceptance, in a departure from this pattern, provided multiple points of view. To a degree this is good. I got to see some past events in the Director's and Lighthouse Keeper's lives before Area X manifested and before the events of Annihilation. I found the character of the Director and the Lighthouse keeper to be quite interesting and enjoyable. However, this shattering of the narrative prevented a definitive ambience from being established. As a result I did not feel as immersed in this book as the previous books.
But my biggest problem with this book is the lack a closure for the majority of the characters. I can certainly understand the choices to leave the fates of Control and the Biologist ambiguous at the end of the first two books. But when this book ends, we do not know the fate of Control (or what his new form is or what was in the shining light), what befell earth/Area X (not to mention Lowry and Southern Reach) as Ghostbird and Gloria pick their way through a transformed landscape, what the final fate of the transformed lighthouse keeper, and why Area X was so interested in the Director's memories. I was left expecting some sort of closure for these character arcs but never got it.
I really liked how VanderMeer constructed Area X. It was the very definition of alien, lacking a common ground for humans to interact with it. I think the nature of Area X vis a vis humanity was aptly summer up by Saul the lighthouse keeper.
Saul: That fish down there sure is frightened of you. Gloria: Huh? It just doesn't know me. If it knew me, that fish would shake my hand. Saul:I don't think there's anything you could say to convince it of that. And there are all kinds of ways you could hurt it without meaning to.
And that is Area X encapsulated. Humanity is the fish that Area X is unable to communicate with and it is indeed hurting us as it tried to communicate and make sense of Earth. In fact I thought the nature Area X was pretty darn nifty: a sort of biological Von Neumann Probes from a dead world that it tries to recreate. And humans (among everything else) is just raw material for it to sculpt as it sees fit.
There is a lot of love about this book. I loved the Ligthhouse Keeper character and his relationship with Gloria. I thought is was awesome what the biologist turned into, but would have liked a lot more about her instead of her just being a near mindless force of nature. I liked the personal journey of the Director and her maneuverings against Lowry (which was a character I would have loved to have gotten to know better). The Seance and Science Brigade was very intriguing but woefully underdeveloped.
Had this book merely been the third installment of a four (or more) book series this would have been a solid four star book. But because this is (as far as I am aware) the end of the line, the lack of closure and resolution really rankled me. If you are going to make me care so much about the characters in the story, at least do my the courtesy of telling me what befalls them. ...more
The Floor beneath his shoes was grimy, almost sticky. The fluorescent lights above flickered at irregular intervals, and the tables and chairs seemed
The Floor beneath his shoes was grimy, almost sticky. The fluorescent lights above flickered at irregular intervals, and the tables and chairs seemed like something out of a high school cafeteria. He could smell the sour metal tang of a low quality cleaning agent, almost like rotting honey. The room did not inspire confidence in the Southern Reach.
Far from the formidable, shadowy, mysterious organization it was portrayed as in Annihilation, the Southern Reach is actually a painfully prosaic government bureaucracy that suffers from all the usual large organizational problems. Problems that Control, the POV character in this installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy, has to tackle.
About thirty-two years ago, along a remote southern stretch known by some as the "forgotten coast," an Event had occurred that began to transform the landscape and simultaneously caused an invisible border or wall to appear.
Into this Area X the Biologist from the first book ventured, looking for answers about what happened to her Husband, who was part of a previous expedition. What she found was pristine nature, strange creatures, and an even stranger subterranean "tower" habitated by a strange creature that wrote bizarre prose on the wall:
Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness and surround the world with the power of their lives...
By the end the rest of the Biologist's team has died or been killed and she sets off to an island described in a journal by her husband she found, along with journals of countless (many more that were reported) expeditions.
Flash forward several months and there is a new Director of Southern Reach who goes by the name Control.
While Control came with whispers about being part of a kind of invisible dynasty, which naturally bred resentment, there was no denying that fact, even if, up close, the dyansty was more like a devolving franchise.
Control had developed a reputation as being a fixer after blowing several field assignments, one of which ended with an innocent person's death due to Control. His mother, high up in Central (Southern Reach's parent organization), placed him in his new position to get Southern Reach straightened up and figure out just what was going on in Area X.
But if he was here to assess and restore, he needed a better idea of how badly it had all slipped-and as some sociopath at another station had once said, "The fish rots from the head." Fish rotted all over, cell corruption being nonhierarchical and not caste driven, but point taken.
Turns out the former director was in fact the Psychologist that accompanied the Biologist on her expedition. Her disappearance, along with the reappearance of the rest of the expedition, has thrown Southern Reach into some disarray. The existing assistant director has no love for him, resenting his presence and carrying a torch for the previous director, insisting she will return. As an organization the Southern Reach had become calcified, operating almost on inertia:
It [the carpet] was as worn down as the Southern Reach, as the agency moved along its appointed grooves on this fun-house ride that was called Area X.
With budget and staff being cut ("..soon enough they might have a situation where subdepartments consisted of one person writing themselves up for offenses, giving themselves raises and bonuses, celebrating their own birthdays with custom-made Southern Reach-shaped carrot cakes.") as the powers that be lost interest in Area X (whose borders had remained fixed since the event), and as little to nothing new had been discovered about Area X, the employees clung to the familiar, fighting to maintain their niche within the organization. Instead of boldly pursuing the nature of Area X, decades of failure, death, and budget cuts had sapped whatever vital energy might have once resided in the agency, an Agency that just might be the only thing standing between humanity and something vastly more powerful and alien than we could imagine:
Idly, he wondered what they called it-whoever or whatever had created that pristine bubble that had killed so many people. Maybe they called it a holiday retreat. Maybe they called it a beachhead. Maybe "they" were so incomprehensible that he'd never understand what they called it, or why."
This book comes down to a bureaucratic mystery. Control has somehow figure out not only what is going on in Area X (a job made difficult by the previous director's... unorthodox data storage methods), but also wrest control from the assistant director all while caught up in factional conflict taking place higher up in Central:
He had a vision, again, of Grace[the assistant director] spiriting away the biologist, of multiple mutual attempted destructions, until somewhere up in the clouds, atop two vast and blood-drenched escalators, they continued to do battle years from now.
Where the first book took place exclusively in Area X with some flashbacks, this book mostly takes place in the Southern Reach complex with some flashbacks about Control's relationship with his family. What I found striking about this book, compared to the first one, is just how different the settings were: Area X's pristine wilderness to Southern Reach's suffocating, decaying offices, both inimicalable to human life.
It [naturey area near a town] wasn't true wilderness, was comfortingly close to civilization, but existed just enough apart to create a boundary. This was what most people wanted: to be close to but not part of. They didn't want the fearful unknown of a "pristine wilderness." They didn't want a soulless artificial life, either.
Both Control and the Biologist faced a mystery, but on different sides of the boundary: what was the nature of Area X and how does it impact humans. When the boundary arose during the event, thousands died, nature was restored to a pristine state, free of human contamination. Some expeditions were wiped out, others returned unharmed, and others, like the one the Biologist's husband was a part of, returned as cancer stricken zombies.
This book once again has a very fulfilling slow burn as we are eased into the alienating atmosphere of the Southern Reach. Something always seems a bit off, be it the long time employees there who have gazed into the abyss, the decaying building, the mystery of the former director, or all the history of Southern Reach we discover. Answers give way to deeper, more unsettling questions. control is no green, wet behind the gills agent, he is a professional and knows a bad situation when he sees it:
Because as far as he was concerned, the agency was fucked and he was now an undercover agent in the field, entering hostile territory.
The tension between Control, his handlers at Central, and the existing bureaucracy (not to mention the inherent strangeness of Area X) create a very creepy, paranoid atmosphere that slowly seeps into the reader's awareness until it bursts forth in an eruption of craziness at the end, setting the stage for what could be a damn awesome conclusion.
All in all this was an enthralling book and a great sequel to Annihilation, even if it wasn't quite as good.
Some additional notes:
-I think this book sort of suffered from secondbook-itis (though not nearly as bad as The Children of the Sky). Yes, we learned a lot more about the Southern Reach but felt like we were mostly in a holding pattern until the very end. Not that this is a critical flaw, this book did a great job introducing and developing the Control character, and this book is sort of meant to be the middle part of one cohesive book, but the weakness of this role did creep in a bit. -While there was quite a bit of tension, I also liked how VanderMeer would give us the equivalent of cat jump scares yo would see in horror movies. For instance:
Now it [the Director's old phone Control had chucked into the words after mysteriously finding it with his stuff] looked more like something alive that it had before. It looked like something that had gone exploring or burrowing and come back to report in.
Under the phone, thankfully, was a note from the landlord. In a quivering scrawl she had written, "The lawn man found this yesterday. Please dispose of phones in the garbage if you are done with them."
He tossed it into the bushes.
-You are never sure just what world this takes place in. There are theories about the multi-verse bandied about, but no specific, identifiable names are given; no national governments are mentioned, no countries are named. What does appear to be the case, though, is this world is majorly screwed up. "The TV was on low, showing the aftermath of massive floods and a school massacre in between commercials for a big basketball series." -There were some great creepy scenes and revelations in this installment, on par with Annihilation. -Oddly enough, the biggest message I got out of this book is the problems with large organizations. Southern Reach should be staffed with the very best of the very best, galvanized by the unquenchable desire to figure out Area X. But even if started with the best intentions, organizations need either strong, inspiring leadership, a constant influx of new ideas, or a series of successes to keep humans engaged in the task. But decades of failure and neglect will do a number or any organization (just look at the Cleveland Browns)....more
So how much trouble could 250 horses be? I mean, besides feeding them and keeping them in shape it can't be that bad, right?
Well, if these horses hapSo how much trouble could 250 horses be? I mean, besides feeding them and keeping them in shape it can't be that bad, right?
Well, if these horses happen to be highly prized by very powerful people (including an Emperor) AND you are stuck in the middle of nowhere when you receive the gift you can find yourself in a bit of a pickle. This is the situation Shen Tai finds himself in when he is gifted (though gifted might not be how he sees it) 250 magnificent Sardian horses, horses whose qualities far surpass all others available to the great Kitai Empire (Kay's name for what we call the Tang Dynasty of China), of which Shen Tai is a citizen of.
Thrust into this precarious situation Shen Tai strikes out to discharge this gift before it gets him killed. Having been away from the Kitai Empire for two years he is unprepared for the volatile political environment his appearance and gift unsettles. There are may layers of court intrigue, hidden agendas, and good old fashion personal grudges.
I think the best way to describe Under Heaven was achingly beautiful. The characters in this book were vibrant and nuanced, the setting was beautifully crafted and multi-layered, the story was both grand and personal, and the writing was elegant and well balanced, never saying more or less than was needed. There is a refined beauty in the economy of language and the imagery Kay employed to tell this story. It sweeps you up and places you firmly among the characters and events of the book.
Kay does a marvelous job balancing three story telling devices: the perspective of the main characters, the perspective of the tangential characters who we only see briefly but fall into the orbit of the main characters, and the greater picture of the events going on beyond the characters' awareness. Each passage, even those from tangential characters we will never see or hear from again, enriches and deepens the setting and atmosphere. Some of my favorite sections were from these characters' perspective, letting us see the main characters from a more impartial position, providing another view on the events going on, and just being delightful to read on their own merits.
I was initially put off by some of the third person passages that cropped up near the end of the book that provide a sweeping view of some events occurring outside the main character's view but it call came together at the end to provide what I think was the message of the book: decisions matter. Large, small, well planned, spur of the moment, all of them in some way contribute to the human experience. A simple, off the cuff decision could have extensive repercussions in a year's time. Empires could fall, famine could spread, love could be unrequited, the path not taken could have been ruin or paradise.
All we can do is make the best decisions we have available to us and move on with our lives knowing that some decisions we can control and other decisions control us. Be it the strict imperial protocol of a fragile empire or what inn we choose to stop at. Life and love may not turn out as we expect or play out like a fairy tale but we must make the best of it and continue to live life as we best see fit. To quote the ever entertaining movie Gladiator: What we do in life echos an eternity.
Under Heaven's story about intersecting lives, decisions, and consequences poignantly conveys this message with subtlety and beauty rarely found in literature.
(For those of you who want to read about the actual historical circumstances that inspired this book, check out the wikipedia article on the An Lushan Rebellion)...more
Fun little book of cartoons outlining just how much cats can be bastards. As a cat (demon?) owner myself I can attest to the accuracy of most of thisFun little book of cartoons outlining just how much cats can be bastards. As a cat (demon?) owner myself I can attest to the accuracy of most of this book. Thankfully my cat (harbinger of doom?) does not go outside so I have not enjoyed the gift of dead animals on my birthday. Really quick, but entertaining read. Inman does a fun job illustrating his point in a variety of ways: charts, comics, lists, tables, etc. Great for coffee tables and cat lovers....more
Annihilation is a slow burn of suspense and Lovecraftian horror. In Area X (yes, I realize this is a terrible name for any place not in a Buck RogersAnnihilation is a slow burn of suspense and Lovecraftian horror. In Area X (yes, I realize this is a terrible name for any place not in a Buck Rogers radio broadcast) something is happening. Expeditions are sent in after some unnamed event and either die off or come back... changed. The secretive government agency the Southern Reach has dispatched the 12th expedition to investigate further of which the narrator, an introverted biologist, is a member.
VanderMeer treats us to a very unsettling landscape where things appear to be slightly off. The tension builds as the narrator discovers more of about the true purpose of Southern Reach's missions and the nature of Area X (Why not Area Nothing-to-see-here-citizen-move-along).
I compared the book's atmosphere to Lovecraft because it reminded me very much of the atmospheric, existential dread that permeated many of his stories. In Annihilation's case the weird, unsettling, otherworldlyness of Area X (still a terrible name) starts on the fringes of the reader's awareness and slowly bleeds into full view, making the many reveals of the book that much more unsettling.
VanderMeer's presentation of the story, a first person recounting of past events, really puts the reader into the mind of the biologist. We discover things about Area X (did I mention this is a horrible name?) as she does while also slowing getting to know more about her life as she reflects upon it in her recounting of events. You really got a sense for what motivated her and how she dealt with all the challenges Area X had in store for her.
The setting was fantastic. You never really knew what was going on with all the misinformation that abounded and the strange, alien things that were encountered. As the biologist penetrates further into the heart of Area X's mystery things just get more bizarre and unsettling. I can honestly say that I had no idea what sort of new revelations would come to the biologist and the exact nature of Area X (I just got a call from the 1920's and they want their hokey name back).
All that being said the ending did leave me a little sore because as much as I like the unknown and mysterious tone of this work, I could have used a bit more closure at the end. I realize that this is the first installment of a trilogy (which is thankfully already written and will be released over the next several months) but there were so many juicy, unanswered mysteries that I felt a bit cheated. In spite of this I would still highly recommend this book to folks who enjoy atmospheric horror and the works of H.P. Lovecraft....more
I found The Emperor's Blades to fit snuggly into the already crowded genre of Epic Fantasy. There is the continent sprawling empire, the extremely gifted off spring of the existing emperor, an ancient evil most of humanity has forgotten about moving in the shadows to thwart the good guys, betrayal, and even special golden eyes for the royal family. But where this book could have easily fallen into a hackneyed cliche Staveley does a top notch job exploiting all the great things about the genre as well as adding some fun little twists of his own into the mix.
This book revolves around the three children to the recently murdered emperor, two sons, Kaden and Valyn (who can inherit the throne), and a daughter Adare (who cannot because reasons). The three are separated by thousands of miles with the daughter being in the capital, Valyn, the younger son, training with an elite military formation that rides giants birds into battle (because how is that not awesome?), and Kaden studying with monks in a secluded monastery beyond the borders of the empire. A conspiracy at the highest levels is a foot and no one is safe.
The most important thing for me when it comes to the epic fantasy genre is world building. A series will live or die by how well the author has thought out and developed his world. If the world doesn't make sense then why should I care about the characters that reside in it? Staveley does a splendid job bringing his world to life, developing in a very natural and organic way the culture of the empire, its history, and its institutions. I got a good sense for the military culture the youngest son was active in as well as the ascetic worldview of the monastery the eldest one was training in. The world felt quite alive and vibrant to me, not to mention unique and pretty cool.
Another easy place to screw up fantasy is with the magic system. While I am a strong proponent of well developed and rational magic systems, I was surprisingly ok with Staveley's squishy system. In it magic users, called leeches, can tap some source (their well) for the ability to alter reality. Some can draw upon the sun or wind or earth or some other source for the power and that defines how powerful they are. Staveley does little to explain the mechanics of the system but this did not detract from the story, nor was there any sort of deus ex machina spring from this murky magical definition. I think he struck and good and acceptable balance though I would like to see this more developed in future books.
And of course no book can be good if there are poorly developed or irrational characters populating it. Staveley's characters are great, from the elite soldiers training with the youngest son, to the interesting monks that share chores with the eldest there lots of fun characters popping up in this book. They are well develop and flow together quite naturally. There is a sense of shared history and post among them.
My only complaint is that Adare got the short end of the development stick in this book. Significantly fewer pages devoted to her and I don't think her pages very well utilized. Where the Kaden and Valyr were part of a larger community Adare felt very shut in, interacting extensively with only the regent, and there was little in the way of exploring the capital scene, both culturally and politically. For a book with a plot at the highest levels I would have expected more palace intrigue. I very much hope she gets a more expansive treatment in the sequels because she was much less developed than the two brothers.
So while The Emperor's Blades didn't exactly stake out new territory for the epic fantasy genre it delivered a great story nonetheless. Staveley shows that he is quite good at hitting all the strong points in the genre while avoiding many of its pitfalls. This book's shortcoming (underdevelopment for Adare and a squishy magic system) are by no means an essential part of its DNA and can be easily fixed in the sequel, The Providence of Fire ....more
I feel as though I did this book a disservice. I typically have several books going at a given time. This one I had slotted in my lunch reading so I wI feel as though I did this book a disservice. I typically have several books going at a given time. This one I had slotted in my lunch reading so I would read it in 40 minute chunks.
That is simply not enough time to properly appreciate this book. Much like its predecessor, Gardens of the Moon, this book is quite dense with many characters, plots, agendas, and history swirling about. It is easy to lose a thread or theme if it is broken up into too many reading sessions.
So this book picks up where Gardens of the Moon left off, chronologically speaking. However, apart from three or four characters from Gardens, this book has a whole new cast of characters and journeys to new parts of the world. It begins with many plot lines which eventually converge into a damn impressive denouement. Erikson isn't afraid to kill off characters and you never know what weird thing he will throw at you next.
One theme that was very prevalent throughout this book, much more so than in Gardens, was just how small and inconsequential humans are compared tot he myriad of magical creatures and gods/ascendants Erikson populated this world with:
He let out a slow breathe, only now realizing he was laying on an ant's nest and its inhabitants were telling him to leave in no uncertain terms. I lie with the weight of a god on their world, and the ants don't like it. We're so much more alike than most would think
Strands of snagged spiderwebs made a stretched, glittering pattern over the toes. He found it unaccountably beautiful. Gossamer webs... intricate traps. Yet it was my thoughtless passage that left the night's work undone. Will the spiders go hungry this day because of it?
It is quite clear that humans and other mortal beings exist at the pleasure of these more powerful beings. Thankfully they rarely directly meddle in mortal affairs, there is often more important things for them to occupy their time with. However, there is a risk of that changing.
It was one thing to assassinate Laseen [current empress] - that was, in the end, a mortal affair. Gods ruling a Mortal Empire, on the other hand, would draw other Ascendants and in such a contest entire civilizations would be destroyed.
As I stated in a previous update, when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. "A god walking mortal earth trails blood."
Another major theme of this book was the bare, naked, inhumanity of war. One of the main plot lines follows an army and the refugees it is protecting across countless leagues to safety. Deprivations are endured, fighting is desperate, everyone's humanity is pushed to the breaking point, and suffering it quite widespread as the army and refugees are slowly worn down by the travel and armies constantly harassing them.
"Children are Dying." Lull nodded. "That's a succinct summary of humankind, I'd say. Who needs tomes of history? Children are dying. the injustices of the world hide in those three words."
And war is not glorified either. There is shit, blood, and urine everywhere. People die quickly and slowly, savagely and by sheer exhaustion. Hope, for all intents and purposes, is taking a very long lunch break for most of this book. "Some warriors ready themselves to live, some ready themselves to die, and in these hours before fate unfolds, its damn hard to tell one from the other."
Of course, this isn't to say there were not humorous aspects every so often. Jokes here and there, fun character repartee, and my favorite character Iskaral Pust, erstwhile High Priest of Shadows who had no inner monologue and constantly schemed behind everyone's backs/outloud right in front of them. Just some of his gems:
"I am reminded of my own melodramatic gestures when I but toddled about in Aunt Tulla's yard. Bullying the chickens when they objected tot he straw hats I had spent hours weaving. Incapable of appreciating the intricate plaits I devised. I was deeply offended."
"Things are coming up behind us. Things! How much clearer can I be?"
[Said out loud]"He believes me, I can see it in his face. The soft-brained dolt! Who is a match for Iskaral Pust? No one! I must remain quietly triumphant, so very quietly."
Is he really as crazy and feckless as he appears? Maybe, maybe not. Things are rarely what they appear to be this world.
As far as the story goes, it is a bit divergent from the plot thrust of the first book. I sort of imagine this being book 2a and the next being book 2b as it takes place during the same time span as this one but continues the main plot path of the first book. I really enjoyed how Erikson wove all the plot paths together in this book as well as showing up more of the wild, strange, and deadly world he has created. the new characters, while taking some time to get a hold of, were great and felt fully alive. Erikson did a splendid job in each character their own motivations and agendas, making their behavior feel quite natural and unforced. He truly takes the term epic fantasy to heart as there are so many seeds and possibilities for events to unfold from. I was very pleased with this book and look forward to the rest of the series....more
This was a really fun, light read. I cannot speak to the accuracy of the book's treatment of a person with Aspergers Syndrome, but you definitely getThis was a really fun, light read. I cannot speak to the accuracy of the book's treatment of a person with Aspergers Syndrome, but you definitely get into the head of the main character (Don) and see he is wired very differently from most folks. We see Don get challenged, change, grow, and reflect on himself throughout all the highjinks that ensue when he gets mixed up with a very unconventional grad student.
What appealed me to most about this book (apart from the many instances of humor) was how reflective Don was. The book took time to run through his line of thinking when assessing the social pitfalls he encounters and why he behaved the way he did. By the end of the book you can see just how much he has changed for the better.
Like I said, this is a light, humorous book, but it does an excellent job treating the subject matter (mostly the vagaries of human relationships) in a very serious manner. Through Don's unique perspective we get a fresh perspective of how people behave with and towards others. I eagerly await the next installment from Simsion....more
Overall I was disappointed with this book. It isn't that the mystery wasn't intriguing. On the contrary I thought the problem facing Lord Peter (the dOverall I was disappointed with this book. It isn't that the mystery wasn't intriguing. On the contrary I thought the problem facing Lord Peter (the detective in the series) was quite fascinating. My issue with the book was there was no tension, pressure for Lord Peter to solve the mystery before something foul or unjust happened to an innocent. The approach to the problem felt very detached and clinical, I just couldn't work up much interest in the case beyond "Hey, this is kind of neat, I wonder how it was pulled off." But because there was no tension and Lord Peter (or his associates) was never really in mortal peril the book never got beyond an intellectual challenge for me.
The characters themselves are fine but perhaps a bit too archteypy (yes I made up that word and yes it makes sense in context). Lord Peter did little to distinguish himself as a unique detective character. I felt he treaded a bit to closely to the foot steps of Holmes while his contact on the police force was a bit too much like Watson for my taste. I did like some of the unique qualities Sayers endowed Lord Peter with (shell shock from WWI, an aristocrat's taste for rare books) but they didn't bleed very much into most of the rest of the characters. Given that this is the first book in a rather popular series I suppose the characters we are introduced to will get more developed, but for now I don't think I will be continuing this series for quite sometime....more
I was very disappointed with this book. The Byzantine Empire has a fascinating history and faced many seemingly insurmountable challenges over the couI was very disappointed with this book. The Byzantine Empire has a fascinating history and faced many seemingly insurmountable challenges over the course of its existence. I thought a book that described how they accomplished this would be very engagin gand fascinating. While I still believe that to be the case, that book is not Luttwak's "The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire".
I found several major problems with this book. The most obvious was the organization. Luttwak split the book into two sections: diplomacy and military. On face this may make sense but in delivering the information Luttwak jumps around quite a bit chronologically. Over the course of a chapter Luttwak might over events separated by hundreds of years without discussing any intermediate events. Further many events are mentioned multiple times as they are relevant to whatever Luttwak is discussing in a chapter.
Luttwak never really establishes the story of the Byzantine Empire at a high level to provide a common reference between himself and the reader. I came to the book with a decent knowledge of Byzantine Empire but stumbled through a good amount of the book before I was able to put the major events in their proper perspective. This greatly diminished my ability to soak up what Luttwak was discussing. On a more minor note Luttwak very infrequently uses sub-headings in chapters and when he does he often moves on to another subject within that heading without any formal indication.
I love maps. I think they are spiffy and, when done right, can be worth much more than a thousand words. While Luttak does have some maps, they are scattered throughout the book. What I think would have been more effective was a central location for all the maps showing the major periods of Byzantine Rule as well as their main rivals. That would have made it much easier to get my bearings regarding Byzantine's strategic position in a given point of time. Instead Luttwak provides a limited number of maps and, because he does not follow a purely chronological account of Byzantine, they are somewhat subjectively assigned to different parts of the book.
But by far the most glaring issue I had with the book was the Military strategy section. I was expecting a discussion of Byzintine military operations and how strategy informed them. Why they had a certain army composition, why they fought the way they did, why they won/lost and how they adapted. Instead I got a glorified cliff notes version of a whole bunch of Byzantine Military manuals. And not even very interesting ones. These outlined how troops should be trained, how much food they should carry, how they should be equipped, etc. While I recognize these are important documents that informed how the Byzantine Empire approached military matters Luttwak did very little to connect what these manuals discussed with how they were operationally realized. The military section was WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too heavy on discussing theoretical military matters without tying it back to Byzantium's actual behavior. These manuals could have been discussed at a much higher level without losing any important information. This treatment would have left more space for the actual military strategy of the Byzantine Empire instead of the theory of several military manuals.
There were some parts of the book I did like. The use of prestige to negotiate with foreign powers, how the Orthodox church and faith played into statecraft, and the the sheer weight of numbers that continuously came off the great eurasian steppe. But these interesting sections were weakened by the weak organizational structure of the book as a whole. By the end I felt much like Luttwak did about The Strategikon of Kekaumenos on page 387: "The composition of the text... meanders from theme to theme and back again with much repetition..." Quite possibly the least self-aware statement I have read in recent memory....more
This is an excellent book for all working professionals to read, not just women. Sandberg makes very compelling points about the behavior of the sexesThis is an excellent book for all working professionals to read, not just women. Sandberg makes very compelling points about the behavior of the sexes in the workplace and how that impacts the professional and personal development of all involved. While the title specifically references Women, there are many useful insights applicable to men as well.
Sanderberg primarily conveys here message in three ways: -Studies/statistics -Personal anecdotes -Direct advice
Sandberg does an excellent job weaving these methods together to present an compelling argument for women and men to alter how the workplace to enhance both male and female performance and achievements. Sandberg offers some very practical advice (a big one being "sit at the table", don't assume just because you are a woman (or a lower level male) that you should automatically relegate yourself to the periphery and not consider contributing) backed by study citations. Sandberg spends a fair amount of time discussing how she and people she knows have dealt with their professional career and child rearing. I think Sandberg makes many good points about the benefits of more equally sharing child rearing duties for both women (she can return to a professional track quicker), men (more involved in the children's lives), and the children (normalized to a professional woman and greater family earnings to support them). All in all Sandberg provides a very clear case for the greater engagement and involvement of women in the workplace and a more equal share of household responsibilities with partners.
I found her writing style very engaging and easy to follow. She has a nice flow to her writing and I breezed through this book (which isn't terribly long). She doesn't waste much space, filling it with useful insights or stories and I didn't feel that Sandberg felt beholden to hit any particular chapter or book length. All in all efficiently written.
I do have some quibbles with this work though. Having worked in the tech sector for most of her career (she did some stints in the political realm prior to going west, but most of her advice comes from her time in the tech sector) she does have a somewhat limited perspective on work spaces. I think it is smashing that she had a somewhat flexible work schedule and a great relationship with her companies' higherups but not all women are in that position. I am not convinced that every woman reading this book (especially blue collar workers) would be able to follow Sanderg's prescription. She even admits that she was fortunate having the income to support a good amount professional childcare. However, her insights on sharing child rearing duties and the systemic obstacles women encounter in the workplace (such as ambition in women being social and profesisonally penalized) is well worth reflecting on.
So, long story short: if you are a working professional this book is well worth your time as to provides a different way to approach workplace structures and relationships.
Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law of Prediction: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Mike's literary corollary to Clarke'sArthur C. Clarke's Third Law of Prediction: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Mike's literary corollary to Clarke's Third of Prediction: Any sufficiently advanced technology that is used without precedent in the story is indistinguishable from bad writing.
This book was first and foremost a disappointment. I loved the premise of the book: a secretive rogue government agency harvests advanced technology before it becomes widespread and disruptive to society and humanity.
What I got was a story populated exclusively by tropes, little to no innovative story telling, and boring, bland characters. Some spoilers to follow.
I fully recognize that tropes cannot be avoided. They are merely recognized conventions writers use. Using them is not a mark of a bad writer, every writer uses them. Even the greatest characters of literature can be boiled down to a trope. What differentiates good writers from bad ones is the ability to breathe life into the tropes, giving them unique twists or interpretation.
Influx is populated by characters that barely rise to the level of trope. There is the rebel scientist who refuses to cooperate with the rogue government organization, the wise mentor he learns from in captivity, the power hungry antagonist, the beautiful enemy agent that is converted to the hero's cause. I just couldn't care about all of them and it seemed like the author did not either.
There were plenty of opportunities to explore the characters' deeper motivations or perspective on events that . For instance, near the end of the book, our hero is infiltrating the bad guys' secret base and runs across his old mentor who had apparently decided to cooperate with the bad guys. Instead of providing a passage of text to describe the mentor's reaction to seeing his old pupil and the revelation the pupil bestows upon him, he gets a few pages of story before getting ignobly offed. Personally I was actually interested to see how the mentor would have reacted to having lived under a significant lie for many years and the consequences of his actions. Instead he is treated as a disposable character. By the end of the book I was just skimming pages during the climatic showdown between the various heroes and villains; I just didn't care.
I also thought the author relies much too heavily on "advanced technology" out of nowhere. It did literally verge on the edge of magic. Obviously I am aware of Clarke's third law (see above). But there is a difference between introducing advanced technology in a natural way and having it appear out of left field. For instance, early in the book we are shown that the shadowy government agency has access to fusion technology. When it is shown later in the book, it is not a surprise. When the bad guys literally summon a golem to chase the hero I am pretty sure I heard my suspension of disbelief shatter. If that sort of technology was introduced as a possibility earlier I would have been less critical, instead of viewing it as "I, the writer, need some way to get around this obstacle to where I want the story to go". It is as though Chekhov's gun went off in a play that took place in ancient Rome: I was surprised both that it went off and that it existed in the first place.
Because I was so indifferent to the story and the characters, I noticed a fair amount of little things that were just wrong. The military force that ends up trying to attack the bad guy's headquarters is described as the 82nd airborn division, but it shown having lots of heavy main battle tanks. It doesn't take a genius (or someone with access to google) to know that airborne forces don't have a heavy tank forces. The author also demonstrated a distinct lack of knowledge of just how much energy a megawatt was, stating several times that a small amount of them (60 MW in one case) was enough to power a small city. As someone who works in the energy field I can assure you that a small city has a much higher power requirement than 60 MW. Perhaps if the story was better and the characters more engaging I could overlook this mistakes, but they weren't so I didn't.
On a side note, the whole gravity manipulation to fly and do other neat things was done first and much, MUCH, better by Brandon Sanderson in the Stormlight Archives. He had the benefit of also having complex and interesting chaarcters as well.
On a second side note, this book merely showed to me that the sort of technologies the rogue government organization was keeping away from the population as a whole was a good thing. The amount of destruction they were able to unleash with them (summoned golem, giant gravity weapons, guns that use anti-matter) strongly convinced me that they were doing the world a service. That level of destruction in the hands of unstable or nefarious organizations would be unfathomable. While I couldn't root for the bad guys at the end (because they had gone full Skeletor evil), I did see the value of their organization's stated goals.
On a final side note, there were several splinter factiosn from the main evil organization. What happens once the main evil organization is wiped out? I don't know, and the author certainly doesn't give them a second thoght (or really explore them much at all, much to my further chagrin).
At the end of the day this struck me as a very poor execution of a neat and fascinating idea. Poorly developed characters abounded and easily mingled with lazy tropes masquerading as characters. The story wasn't gripping since there always seemed to be an easy "advanced technology" solution to any problem the hero or villain faced. By the end I was just angry that the book had wasted the potential of the premise with such terrible writing....more
Not much to say really. This is a short bridge story into the next installment of Sanderson's Reckoners series. I liked it a lot. It didn't try to doNot much to say really. This is a short bridge story into the next installment of Sanderson's Reckoners series. I liked it a lot. It didn't try to do too much, gave us a nice update as to what is going on in Newcago (nee: Chicago) after the events of the last book, and sets things us nicely for the next full installment. I would have liked to have seen more of the city after all the changes that occurred in Steelheart (hence the four stars) but liked how Sanderson laid out the new society that has formed in Newcago. If you liked Steelheart this will feel like another few chapters tacked on at the end. Nice diversion but over quickly and leaving you wanting more....more
If you check through the books I have read you will see this is very much not up my alley (an alley populated by dragons, space ships, and histories).If you check through the books I have read you will see this is very much not up my alley (an alley populated by dragons, space ships, and histories). I ended up reading this for my book club and, much like The Other Boleyn Girl, I really enjoyed this book immensely. It follows the life of an Iranian woman from her adolescence through her elder years. She experiences many challenges through the reign of the Shah and Islamic Revolution, and we see how they shape and change her. There is a lot more to be said about this book, so if you don't mind spoilers, follow below:
Massoumeh, the narrator, is controlled by her family. It is only by the willfulness of her father that she is able to get a solid education. Her brothers see her as nothing more than a burden to be unloaded on a husband. She cannot be a vibrant contributing member to the family, only a burden on their honor. They control her both through the cultural expectations of how a woman should act in Iranian society and physical violence. When they discover she has become infatuated with a local pharmacy assistant they violently beat her and assault the assistant, causing him to flee Tehran. She is completely under their power and is eventually forced into a marriage not of her choosing. This was control imposed upon her externally.
Later in life, after Massoumeh has raised three amazing children, been stigmatized as the wife of a traitor, and many other challeneges, she reconnects with the pharmacy assistant she fell in love with in her youth. But because she is so old and widowed she is worried how that will reflect upon her children. They are horrified and think only how the marriage will affect them. They may love their mother, but they only love her as a symbol for what they think she represents. She is the devout mother, the wife of a martyred hero, the proper Iranian woman. If she were to be married and happy in her twilight years these images would be shattered. Instead of telling her grown up children to take a hike and grab a hold of happiness she withholds this bliss from herself. Unlike earlier in her life where she had no autonomy, she voluntarily submits to the controls and expectations of others.
Her husband, Hamid, is controlled by his ideology. It instills in him the false belief that his cause is the most just and anything that can advance it is worthwhile. It leads to him sublimate his life to the cause forsaking any other responsibility. While this does have the beneficial of encouraging Massoumeh to continue her education, it also leaves her without any support in raising their children. He shows no attachment to them because they are not part of his cause. He goes where the cause tells him, does what the cause tells him to, all for the greater socialistic paradise he envisions. But like most radical political causes the movement uses him and his friends, eventually sending them on a suicide mission that accomplishes little to nothing. Later, after being released form the Shah's prison, he becomes the unwilling tool of Massoumeh's very religious brother who raises Hamid up as a martyr. Once the tables have turned and the religious faction has taken control, the brother happily condemns Hamid to death.
The fate of Hamid influenced Massoumeh's belief that her children should get as much education as possible, believing that an education would help inoculate them from the influence of people who would manipulate and use them to the ends of others. This is something she particularly encourages in her eldest son, Siamak, whom she fears will follow in his father's footsteps, a father he idolizes as a hero. Massoumeh wants to protect her children from the same sort of control she was a victim of her life. She encourages independent thought, steers them away from her religious brother, and allows them to marry whomever they choose.
On a larger level Iranian society also suffers from being controlled. Under the Shah's control no civil society developed as it would challenge the power centralized in the regime. There are many descriptions of how Massoumeh interacts with her family and friends but little in the way of a larger engagement with society. Hamid hangs out with his revolutionary friends but there is no outlet for political organization. There are no larger societal groups that citizens can join save for the mosque. The Shah's control over Iranian society squeezed most of the life out of it so that when the existing state institutions fell the only organized force that could fill the power vacuum was the religious zealots which had a whole different set of control issues.
Throughout the story we see the negative effects that control has on Massoumeh, both directly (physical beatings, forced marriage) and indirectly (expected female behavior, family obligations). This control is so pernicious that by the end of the book she willingly accepts the limitations that are imposed upon her. She is worn down by the decades of expectations and trials, unable to fight for what she wants. She becomes the hollow idol everyone views her as. That is the tragedy of this story, through all that Massoumeh has survived and achieved, all that she has seen and all that she is self aware of, she cannot find the strength to control herself or her destiny. It is a cautionary tale about the caustic influence control has on the very essence of the human condition. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more