I am not a linear book-reader. That is, I rarely ever read a book contiguously, from start to finish. I have a very bad habit of reading the last doze...moreI am not a linear book-reader. That is, I rarely ever read a book contiguously, from start to finish. I have a very bad habit of reading the last dozen or so pages first, just to see if I will like the story. (It's a bit irrational; I don't know what I'm looking for, but somehow, reading those last words gives me an impression of what to expect, of whether I should buy a book or pass on it, or even if I will like a book or not.) Personally, I don't think that reading the end first takes anything away from the story since I don't know what led up to it, and I often feel (strangely) rewarded at the end by those "aha!" moments when what I know of the ending becomes evident. Still, I know it drives some people (i.e., Jim) crazy, and for that, apologies. Once I start reading, I also have a tendency to go back to certain sections repeatedly (including the ending), thus prolonging the experience while also gaining more insight into the characters, situations, the language used, etc. So in many ways, my style of reading probably suited the way how this novel was written: the beginning presupposed the end, and the time traveling aspects of the story - jumping back and forth through time - did not detract from my going back and forth through the novel, either. It complemented it very well, in fact, that I am now a proud owner of a very dog-eared copy, with the binding a bit ragged and very nearly unglued. :-)
That said, I must say I really enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife. I stop short of claiming that I loved it only because there were parts of the novel - specifically towards the end - that bothered and frustrated me. My discomfiture, however, did not take anything away from relishing the narrative itself: I loved the characters, I loved the writing style, I loved the intelligence of both the author and the narrative. The prose - her writing, the attention to detail, the exquisite imagery - was sublime and oftentimes visceral. Sometimes what she wrote was almost too painful to read (in a good way). Similarly, the poetry was heartwrenching; it made me want to re-read Rilke, Homer and Dickinson (as well as Byatt's Possession) with a different lens. I did feel as if there were a few questions left unanswered in the end, such as, what happened to Alba? (Yes, the title of the book is not The Time Traveler's Daughter; I suppose what happened to Alba, in the grand scheme of things, is irrelevant since we find out what happens to Clare.)
The parts that troubled me the most occurred in the third part, at the end. Her one-word chapter titles, "Dissolution," "Dasein," and "Renascence" said more than enough. I found these last chapters the hardest to get through (I was telling Jim I could've finished the book 2 weeks ago, but I had to keep putting it down because there were parts I found extremely upsetting), even though they were probably the most critical chapters in the novel because, for the first time, it finally dealt with Clare after Henry. For as much as the novel was about Henry's wife, it was also his story, and a majority of the book dealt with their lives. They were inextricably linked through time and space for most of the book, but here, at the end, it was all about Clare. Clare alone, Clare lost, Clare trapped, Clare waiting.
Throughout the novel, Clare typified her art as being, simply, about birds and about longing. But as her story unfolded, her art became a metaphor for freedom: it became about finding her wings (and Henry's), and gaining freedom from the body, from time, from its intricacies and paradoxes, from the problems it caused, from the world. What was so unnerving, however, was the meaning behind those three chapter titles, and what happened in each chapter. Dissolution: disintegrating, breaking bonds, falling apart. Dasein: a being that is constituted by its temporality, something that illuminates and interprets the meaning of "Being in Time" and a way of choosing to either remain engaged in the world or distanced from it, all the while questioning what it means to be (now there's a throwback to my literary criticism days when we were studying Heidegger - I never liked Heidegger because everything was a circular argument; everything seemed paradoxical because everything seemed causal). And then Renascence: a rebirth, a renaissance.
There's a passage in the book, towards the end of the second part, when Henry says "The pain has receded but what's left is the shell of the pain, an empty space where there should be pain but instead there is the expectation of pain." During Dissolution and Dasein, Clare lived these words. Clare never achieved the freedom she longed for; her life and her freedom were directly linked to Henry's, and when he was gone, a part of her died with him, too. She becomes nothing more than a shell; someone who gives up her art, someone who just drives her daughter around, someone who is a part of the world, but is not engaged in it. Someone who just is. In Renascence, Clare finally creates something new. After decades of creating birds, wings, angels and drawings of Henry and Alba, she finally creates one of herself. And this new art form surprises her because it takes on a much bigger scope than anything she had created in the past: this time, it's a constellation, a galaxy, a universe of stars, and she's lost in the vastness of something so huge, so intangible. At the end, she states, "I regard my likeness, and she returns my gaze. I place my finger on her forehead and say 'Vanish,' but it is she who will stay; I am the one who is vanishing."
There is beauty in such tragedy, and that's what made it so hard to read, so hard to end.
What a terrific premise! Fans of Star Trek will be familiar with the ever-revolving cast of "Redshirts" (from the original to TNG, DS9, Voyager and En...moreWhat a terrific premise! Fans of Star Trek will be familiar with the ever-revolving cast of "Redshirts" (from the original to TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise) and will be amused by this story written by Scalzi, who was a consultant on Stargate Universe.
I definitely would've given this book 4 stars for the story - it was inventive, creative, funny and very meta. Also, I can't remember ever reading a book that had a first-person, second-person and third-person narrative. It was definitely an uncommon literary device and it worked very well. The main part of the book was written in third-person omniscient, which is not really all that odd. However, each of the three codas were written in first-, second- and third-person (in this case, third-person present), focusing on three minor (but not inconsequential) characters of the main narrative. I didn't know how it was going to work out, but Scalzi pulled it off quite successfully.
My main problem with the novel was the writing (and is the reason why I didn't give this 4-stars). The story was great and the pacing was fine, but in all truthfulness, Scalzi did a lot better when he was writing the novel as a screenplay. Things came across much better when he used the screenplay format (in the first coda). The main part of the narrative, however, was bogged down by the choppy dialogue and his constant use of "X said" and "Y said". To wit:
Pages and pages and pages were filled with this kind of dialogue. Part of me wanted to scream out at some point and say "Use a thesaurus, for crying out loud! There are other words other than 'said'! You can use 'retort' or 'mused' or 'gushed' or even 'asked', 'implied', 'cried' or 'bemoaned'!" *sigh*
Granted, this is probably just my thing and is just me being too nitpicky once again. Still, it distracted me enough from the story and detracted enough of my attention from the awesomeness of the narrative (and of Scalzi). Would I read more of Scalzi's work? Sure...but I may just want to give myself some time before I tackle another one.
Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend this to others. It's too good a story not to! (less)
This was a great story...if only I didn't have to wait until getting to 80% of the way in to figure out where this story was going!
So here's the thin...moreThis was a great story...if only I didn't have to wait until getting to 80% of the way in to figure out where this story was going!
So here's the thing. I didn't hate the book. I actually liked it, especially the last 20% of the story. That part had my attention. That part was really good and hit all the right spots. But why did I have to slog through 80% (470+ pages) to get to the good stuff? And here's the thing: I don't mind a lot of set-up; I don't mind a ton of exposition. I don't mind if the author takes their time to really create their world and set the characters just so. In the right hands, this could've been a well-crafted, intelligent, poignant 4-star read. But it wasn't. It wasn't set-up properly. I think I'm being generous giving it 2-stars, since I was constantly barraged with inanities (toilet paper shortages in 2055 being one of them along with a variety of one-dimensional characters in both the 1320s and the future).
It was such a great concept: we now have the technology to time travel. We understand the physics behind it. Let's send a historian back to the 1300s! But oops, something goes wrong (we don't know what) and the historian is stuck in the middle of the plague. And back in the future, they're trying to get her back.
As a concept, it would've worked as either a character study or a sci/fi story. And on both levels, to a certain degree, it did. During the last 20% of the book. Which is much too late. There was so much else (ummm...80% worth) that made it tedious and...unreadable...that I was tempted at least half a dozen times to put it down and say "I give up." (Anyone who's read my reviews in the past will know that no, I don't do that sort of thing, much to the detriment of my own mental health...I will stick with it to the bitter end, especially if I've paid for the book.)
So what didn't I like about it?
Well, to start off with, why would anyone write a time travel story and then create a world where the most technologically advanced thing that's been invented (other than time travel, of course) is a video phone. A video phone that doesn't record messages (where, oh where, has voicemail gone? There were answering machines in the 90s!). There are no cell phones. There are no personal computers. The concept of e-mail is non-existent. So is internet research. Oh, and everything was on paper! People wrote things left and right, on paper!
Many things we take for granted these days seem to be unavailable in 2055. Which is bizarre. I grew up in the 80s. I was in college in the 90s. I had a computer in my teens; I saw my first cell phone in 1992. I was e-mailing in the late 80s. Surely it isn't a huge stretch of the imagination to extrapolate the tech that was available and say "65 years later, this is what we would have."
Well that was point one. Point two is sort of related. Say you're writing a novel in the 1990s about the future (e.g., 2055), why would England--Oxford, to be specific--in 2055 be very much like 1960s England? Either a) the author wasn't very technologically savvy about the tech available in the 1990s, b) the author wasn't very speculative about the tech that would be possible/available 60+ years in the future, or c) the author just lacked the requisite amount of imagination required to write sci/fi.
(c) doesn't suit me as the answer since Connie Willis is a six-time Nebula award winner. She's also won the Hugo awards. Two of the biggest sci/fi awards out there. So it has to be (a) or (b). Oh, and I thought it absolutely laughable that Oxford in 2055 was so puritanical that having a boy, in college, kissing a girl in the hallway, was enough to send the adults into apoplexy! Kissing! In 1320, sure. But 2055? In college? Just didn't make sense.
And point three. (view spoiler)[This is what was in 80% of the story: Character complaints in 2055: a) There's something wrong, Badri says before he falls sick. (5% of the story) b) We're going to have a toilet paper problem. c) They've quarantined Oxford! There's a flu virus! You must shut down the time travel device! d) What do you mean, Badri's got the flu? He said "There's something wrong!" Someone figure out what went wrong! (10% of the story) e) Where will I put these bell ringers? Oh, and we're running low on toilet paper. f) Ugh, why are they playing so much Christmas music? (Um, could it be because it's Christmas time?) g) Didn't anyone hear that Badri said there was something wrong?! I know he's in a coma, but wake him up! (20% of the story) h) The bell ringers won't shut up! They're going to sue Oxford! They need ring bells elsewhere! i) Have you heard we're running low on toilet paper?! j) The phones are on the fritz. I can't see who I'm talking to. Oh no! However will I know what's happening? (25% of the story) k) OMG, we're running low on eggs and bacon! But don't worry, we have tons of brussel sprouts! l) There's a plague! It's the flu! No, it's virus! It's the viral plague flu! Oh, no, no one's had a cold in decades! Ack! Achoo! m) Badri, I know you've just woken up and you're sick and delusional, but what went wrong? Tell me! What went wrong?!? (30% of the story) n) Brussel sprouts?! Really? That's all we've got? And biscuits? o) Oh dear, we're running low on butter! What are we to do?!?!? (40% of the story) p) Kissing?!? Off to your room with you young man! q) I don't know what to do. The bell ringers want a room to practice in, and I have to ration the toilet paper! (50% of the story) r) Excuse me, I know you're sick, but have you been around any ducks or geese lately? No? How about within the last 8 days? Yes, I know there's a flu virus epidemic. Yes, I know we're running low on toilet paper. s) The phones are down!! I can't even get a dial tone! Now I can't see or talk to people! (People today say "What's a dial tone???) t) Oh no, one of the bell ringers has collapsed during practice! The horror! We can't continue this song! What are we to do?!? u) Brussel sprouts. That's all we have, is brussel sprouts. BRUSSEL SPROUTS!!! v) I managed to save some squares of toilet paper... (60% of the story) w) We MUST get to the net! We can't close the time machine down! x) What do you mean, we've been digging up graves from the 1300s? (70% of the story) y) Wait, viruses can last a looooooooooooooooooooong time. In the grave. Oh, and btw, we're out of toilet paper. z) Why won't the crazy old lady stop reading me Bible verses about pestilence and plague? How is this helping me, when I'm sick with the flu? aa) We're out of toilet paper!!! Aaaagggghhhh!!! ab) Aaaagggghhhh, brussel sprouts! Again! On Christmas!! And New Years. And during the Slaughter of the Innocents! Noooooo!!
Character complaints in the 1300s: a) That priest is an idiot. He doesn't know what he's doing. b) That guy has a pock-marked face. He must be a cutthroat! (Ho, cutthroat island!) c) You are an idiot! The plague is your fault! d) Oof! Get away from me, cow. I can't milk you. e) Stupid rat. I can't let you go free. You will infect everyone with your fleas. f) Stop staring at me, rat. You're much too intelligent looking! g) Oh, the horror! The priest forgot the words in Mass! h) Oh no! What a scary looking man! He must be the cutthroat! i) The priest is an idiot. He put the candles in the wrong place! j) Wait, the priest is the scary, scarred man? k) Get away from me, cow. I said I can't milk you right now! Don't you see people are falling ill all around us?! l) Wait, I'm confused. The scary scarred man is a cutthroat? m) Why is the maid always sleeping or running away? Well, that's it! The plague is her fault! n) I'm very confused. The priest sounded so kind while I was delirious and trying to recover from a virus. How can he be a cutthroat? o) I've been mistaken. The priest is very kind. He's just got a scarred scary face. p) Whine, whine, whine...whine, whine, whine. q) Moooooooooo...someone milk me. Please. My udders are sooooo full! r) Ugh, stupid cow! Get away from me! There's plague all around! I need to take care of all these dying people! *sob* *sob* s) Now I've got all the kids calling the priest a cutthroat. t) The priest is so sweet. I think I'm kinda falling for him. Even though he does look like a cutthroat... u) The priest is an idiot! He pinched the candle flames. The plague has to be his fault! v) Dang it cow! Get. Out. Of. My. Way! I can't milk you right now!! w) Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! x) And it goes on and on, in much of the same vein... (hide spoiler)]
What I did like: the Middle English. It brought tears to my eyes. (This is good.)
Ummm...what else did I like?
The donkey. The cow. Blackie the puppy. The intelligent, innocent rat. Colin.
I am convinced that Colin is the hero of the story, despite what the author would have me believe.
So...reading this has been an experience. I can definitely say that this story was an interesting ride, one I am likely never to go on again. And sorry, Connie Willis, but I will not be reading the other four books in the series. I think I've had my fill. I don't think I can handle being on pins and needles, waiting and worrying over whether there will be another tp shortage in the 2060s. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Narrative: 5-stars. Highly intelligent, compelling, wonderful world-building. It's a novel of grand ideas yet so...more First off, my breakdown of the basics:
Narrative: 5-stars. Highly intelligent, compelling, wonderful world-building. It's a novel of grand ideas yet somehow, it maintained a certain sense of intimacy. While this is, at heart, sci-fi, it deals with many things including science, religion, faith, love, loss (including loss of hope, loss of self, loss of faith), the deterioration of humanity and humanity's intrinsic need for survival, sometimes at all costs.
Writing: 5 stars. Utterly beautiful prose, very intelligent, unbelievable imagery (both sensory and emotionally). Robert Charles Wilson took the time to tell his story his way, even if it meandered here and there every now and again, and most importantly, he didn't pander to the lowest common denominator.
Characters: 4 stars. Wonderfully rich character development, realistic journeys and character arcs, sympathetic characters that the reader can easily relate to; very nuanced protagonists and antagonists, including antiheroes. Even the characters I didn't necessarily like were not truly unlikable - what drove them to be who they were was as much a part of them that you could understand why they were drawn that way.
Science: 4 stars. The science was actually quite sound. Mind you, this is still science fiction, so there is a lot of it that is speculative in nature. Having said that, what I liked about it was that it was accessible and true enough. There are a lot of novels out there that have grand ideas but fall short on the science (e.g., The Age of Miracles, which was overall well-written and a good story, but the science wasn't rigorous enough -- there were times when I felt slightly cheated because the author either skirted around the science or posited theories that were just unbelievable to me). I'm not going to say I bought 100% of what Robert Charles Wilson wrote for his explanation of why or how the Spin Barrier was erected (and there are still some parts where I'm a bit fuzzy), but I did appreciate all the thought and research he did. The science in Spin was fairly solid, and that's really all I'm asking for in sci-fi.
Overall: 4.5 stars, which, in Goodreads parlance equals 5 stars.
My thoughts in general:
Framework narratives can be tricky. There are some authors who frame a story and touch on the framework or secondary narrative only at the beginning and end of the story. What I liked about Spin was that the main (Tyler's story from childhood through the present) and secondary (the far future, which is 4x10^9 AD) narratives are equally important, and Wilson spends as much time exploring the past as the present/future. They're inextricably linked, and time, both from Tyler's perspective and as a result of the Spin barrier, flows very much like a mobius strip, clockwise and counterclockwise within a Euclidean space.
While this is a sci-fi novel, I would hazard a guess that this is probably closer to 40% sci-fi and 60% a character study, with the focus being on the relationship and interrelations among Tyler, Jason and Diane. This isn't like most sci-fi novels where the focus is mostly on us vs. aliens, or us vs. tech-gone-bad, or us vs. us-gone-bad-due-to-technological-advancements. Spin is more like one of those sprawling literary novels with a smattering of fantastical sci-fi peppered in every so often, just so that we don't forget that it's actually sci-fi. The speculative parts definitely color the decisions and life trajectories of the various characters, and while you can't ignore it when Wilson's focusing on it, it always fades to the background the rest of the time. What's focused on is a very human drama, dealing with unrequited love, friendships, loneliness, family and everything in between.
The main characters (Tyler Dupree, Jason and Diane Lawton) all stood for something: Jason was uncompromisingly a man of science: a child genius, he was created and molded by his father to be the man he eventually became. Jason knew how to play the game politically in order to fuel his single-minded obsession: funneling government and scientific resources into understanding the Spin, at any cost. Diane, Jason's twin sister, was equally as gifted and as intelligent, but unlike Jason, she was the ignored child. In a way, her parents' lack of concern for her propelled her into the tailspin she entered as a teen. Shunning science, she absorbed everything that was anathema to Jason and her father: new age beliefs, twisted fundamentalist Christianity, a new reading on biblical apocalyptic prophecies. As much as Jason loved the Spin, Diane hated it and was almost uncompromising in her beliefs to refute the meaning of the Spin. What's interesting is that while she wholeheartedly took on a cowl of religious fervor, there was always a part of her that instinctively knew religion wasn't the answer but that she was willing to hold on to it because it was the only thing that made sense to her after the Spin.
And then there's Tyler. Tyler was the twins' best friend from childhood, and the one constant in both Jason's and Diane's lives. Tyler stood for everything the twins never had: love, faith, loyalty, constancy. He was the poor kid looking in on the Big House (Tyler was the son of the twins' father's partner and friend; when his dad passed away, Tyler and his mother ended up living in a little cottage on the Lawtons' property. His mom became the Lawtons' housekeeper). He was the one who fell in love with Diane at age ten and who was enamored by Jason's intelligence. Growing up, the twins included Tyler in everything and he soaked up all that they offered -- lessons, toys, endless summer days, friendship, secrets. But in the same token, Tyler was the one who wanted and needed to get away from the Lawtons and the Big House. But in leaving the Lawtons behind, he became a shell, moving through life as if something were missing. Sure, he was successful; he became a doctor, had relationships, had a life. His later lovers inevitably always pointed out that Tyler was just coasting, was largely indifferent, that everything always came back to the Lawtons and that he couldn't give them up because he didn't want to.
But I think he wouldn't give them up because they were as integral to him as he was to them. Both Jason and Diane relied on Tyler for various kinds of support. Tyler was Jason's lifeline to the outside world - sure, he shared things with Tyler that would have gotten both of them thrown into prison - but more than that, Tyler was Jason's link to humanity. Jason was too logical, too scientific, out of touch with the world and with people, but with Tyler, Jason was able to go back to a simpler time and just be Jason. Diane held on to Tyler because he provided her with whatever her religion, her husband and her family couldn't give her: namely unconditional, uncompromising love. Tyler almost functioned as the twins' soul. Similarly, both Jason and Diane was Tyler's brain and heart, respectively, and he couldn't function without having them in his life either. Whenever Tyler cut himself off from them, his life was empty, as empty as the Earth seemed once the Spin barrier occluded it from the galaxy and the universe. It was a very weird -- and some would say unhealthy -- symbiotic relationship the three of them shared. And despite their imperfect and utterly trying relationship, Tyler loved both of them.
One of my favorite parts of the book explains their convoluted relationship (in this excerpt, Tyler is being tended to by Ibu Ina, a Minang physician in the future):
Tyler said "Not half as beautifully as Jason did. It was like he was in love with the world, or at least the patterns in it. The music in it."
"And Diane was in love with Jason?"
"In love with being his sister. Proud of him."
"And were you in love with being his friend?"
"I suppose I was."
"And in love with Diane."
"And she with you."
"Maybe. I hoped so."
"Then, if I may ask, what went wrong?"
"What makes you think anything went wrong?"
"You're obviously still in love. The two of you, I mean. But not like a man and a woman who have been together for many years. Something must have kept you apart. Excuse me, this is terribly impertinent."
Yes, something had kept us apart. Many things. Most obviously, I supposed, it was the Spin. She had been especially, particularly frightened by it, for reasons I had never completely understood; as if the Spin were a challenge and a rebuke to everything that made her feel safe. What made feel safe? The orderly progression of life; friends, family, work -- a kind of fundamental sensibility of things, which in E.D. and Carol Lawton's Big House must already have seemed fragile, more wished-for than real.
The Big House had betrayed her, and eventually even Jason had betrayed her: the scientific ideas he presented to her like peculiar gifts, which had once seemed reassuring -- the cozy major chords of Newton and Euclid -- became stranger and more alienating...a universe not only expanding but accelerating towards its own decay.
...The Spin, when it came, must have seemed like a monstrous vindication of Jason's worldview--more so because of his obsession with it.... It was immensely powerful, terrifyingly patient, and blankly indifferent to the terror it had inflicted on the world. Imagining Hypotheticals, one might picture hyperintelligent robots or inscrutable energy beings; but never the touch of a hand, a kiss, a warm bed, or a consoling word.
So she hated the Spin in a deeply personal way, and I think it was that hatred that ultimately led her to Simon Townsend and the NK movement. In NK theology, the Spin became a sacred event but also a subordinate one: large but not as large as the God of Abraham; shocking but less shocking than a crucified Savior, an empty tomb.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that this is only the first book in a trilogy. I already downloaded the second and third books. While the subsequent books won't have the Lawtons and Tyler in it, I'm still looking forward to seeing where Robert Charles Wilson will take me. I definitely think he's become one of my favorite authors now.(less)
Kids are tough,that much is true. Last year, when I read The Hunger Games, I kept thinking that only a twisted individual would create a world, somewh...moreKids are tough,that much is true. Last year, when I read The Hunger Games, I kept thinking that only a twisted individual would create a world, somewhere in our distant future, wherein kids would battle to the death in order to garner their colony and family a year's worth of supplies, supplies which the government withheld in order to control its people.
Flashback, then, to two decades before Hunger Games was even created, and you have Ender's Game, another dystopian world wherein each kid is tested to see if they have what it takes to become xenocidal maniacs. Where kids are tested at age three, and if they're lucky enough to pass muster as a potential soldier, they're taken away from their parents and families and sent to a hopped up military school in space, where they live and breathe The Game. Where they learn tactics and command. Where they learn to kill.
In both books, kids are put through a sort of mental, physical and psychological torture, but because of the resilient nature of children, the adults don't seem to think about the lasting damage these exercises have on the kids. While the kids were expected to kill each other in The Hunger Games, kids killing kids were considered collateral damage and for the good of all, in Ender's Game.
I guess at the center of both narratives, it was Katniss' urge to survive and Ender's struggles to maintain his humanity that made both these books so compelling to millions of readers. This is what struck a chord for most: Katniss' and Ender's sense of isolation, that only they could do what was asked of them and they had no one else really, that they could turn to, and certainly not any adults. It was their feelings of desolation, that they had to do this to save the ones they loved (for Katniss, it was to save her sister Prim, and for Ender, it was to save his sister Valentine). It was the emptiness of loss, as the realities of the price and consequences of their successes weighed on them. Too much blood, all at the hands of kids. Heavy stuff; most adults wouldn't be able to handle dealing with such things. And what about kids? They're resilient. They have the rest of their lives to recover from whatever damage this has done to their psyche.
I wanted to wait until I'd read both Incarceron and Sapphique before I wrote my review. While each book stands on its own, I had to see where the stor...moreI wanted to wait until I'd read both Incarceron and Sapphique before I wrote my review. While each book stands on its own, I had to see where the story went (after finishing Incarceron) and how I felt about it.
Let me preface this by saying I didn't not like the book. If Goodreads allowed half stars for rating, I would've rated both as 2.5s. Personally, I thought Catherine Fisher was quite innovative in creating a Matrix-steam-punk-YA mash-up: in some future time, because of all the wars and rebellions (and maybe the destruction of the moon??), the leader of The Realm decides that the only way to stop dissension and chaos is to stop time. He gathers up all his enemies and creates a prison for them. Incarceron is meant to house the rebels and dissidents but it's also designed to be a paradise, where the prisoners won't want for anything and will eventually create a culture/civilization of their own separate from those in outside world.
For himself and his people, he decrees that they should live in a world of Protocol, set in Regency Era times. When living within the confines of Protocol, people live their lives without the benefits of technology and modern day science or medicine. Nothing new can be created and no tech can be used. Records of technological advances are sparse and are available only to a select few, such as the ruling class and the Sapienti, who have partial access to some old records. But the records aren't complete, so they can't reconstruct any technology. In this manner, time stops. Still, while the poor live in misery and suffer the same fate as people in the 18th and 19th centuries did, the rich are allowed to have tech, as long as they hide it and act "in Era" when around others (i.e., they can have actual bathrooms and washing machines, scanners, computers and communication devices, provided they remain hidden at all times).
Near the beginning of Sapphique, I actually started to wonder if The Realm was actually the prison, and the prison was reality. When Incarceron starts creating a human form for itself, draining power reserves both in the prison and out in the realm, it seems that Incarceron and the realm are nothing more than one gigantic holodeck. The question of what was real and what wasn't, of whether there was a way out of Incarceron, of the growing sentience of a prison -- these were fascinating concepts and really made me enjoy both works.
...and here's my list of howevers:
• There was a lot of hostility in both books. Most of Fisher’s main characters (with the exception of Jared) were almost always annoyed, raging, fuming, seething, untrusting, wary and/or cross. Almost no one trusted any other character; there was always someone who was willing to question another person’s motives or was quick to antagonize someone else. Her characters were quick to judge and provoke others and no one ever apologized or tried to understand where anyone was coming from. But I get it: if I were imprisoned (whether literally, in Incarceron, or metaphorically, “Outside” in The Realm) I wouldn’t be in a good mood, either. At some point however, you need to learn to trust someone. While everyone’s definitely in “survival of the fittest” mode, I found it odd that even when characters had the same goals and were “helping” each other out, they were still bitter, insolent and untrusting.
• This general aggression and animosity made it very difficult for me to like any of the characters. For me, this took away from the experience. While the creation of a sentient prison and the exploration of reality vs. illusion was great, I felt that the characterization – and character building in particular – was two-dimensional. I wish the characters had grown. I wish they’d learned from their mistakes and from their interactions with others.
• The writing. I always come back to this because there is something to be said about a beautifully written narrative. It can take you away; it can make you not want to put your book down; it can make you fall in love with the characters and make worlds and people come alive. Fisher isn’t a very sophisticated writer. The fact that she came up with a fantastic concept shows that she’s got real promise. However, there’s a difference between the creativity and the mechanics. For me, she succeeded in coming up with an engrossing premise, but the mechanics needed work. She tries. She really does and every now and then, she comes up with something really well-written. Her pacing was surprisingly good (I cannot stress how important pacing is!) -- there really weren't any dead spots. I felt that she handled switching the characters' POVs quite well. But she’s not subtle. There were no sublime moments. There were rarely any passages that just whisked me away or drew me in. I wondered if this was why the characters felt a little stiff and two-dimensional to me.
Nevertheless, this series is worth a read, if only for the speculative aspects of both novels. A lot of people love this series and I have heard that some fans have even created Claudia-and-Jared fanfic. I wish it struck the same chord in me, but it sort of fell short.
I wanted to wait until I finished the fourth book of the Old Man's War trilogy (haha, yes, just like Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide) before I wrote...moreI wanted to wait until I finished the fourth book of the Old Man's War trilogy (haha, yes, just like Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide) before I wrote another review about the series. And now that I finished Zoe's tale, which is essentially a rehash of what, to me, was the best book of the series, The Last Colony, I can honestly say that I'm ready to leave this world behind.
I have this to say for John Scalzi: while I may not care very much for his writing style, I do appreciate his world-building skills. He puts a ridiculous amount of thought and effort into creating his universes and as a reader, I can tell that he not only loves the worlds he's created, but he loves the characters, and every single nuance about them, too.
Scalzi takes time to develop his stories: he tells you about every single little bit of minutiae that you may or may not care about, and he makes sure that's he's clear about how he's built these worlds, what's in them, and who's in them. He periodically goes off on tangents (but there's usually a reason) and he can go into interminable amounts of detail about the most inconsequential things. Sometimes, I found it tiresome. It takes awhile for him to make his point (or even get to it), but once he makes his way there, it's hard to fault the guy for very carefully honing and crafting this little microcosm into something tangible, into something believable.
While I may not always buy the science in Scalzi's Old Man's War universe, I do appreciate how much detail he's built into it to create a very 3-dimensional alt-universe (or, in his case, when explaining his skip technology, multiple alt-verses). Sometimes, I compared his work to that of the guy who created the Taj Mahal using toothpicks - the detail is amazing, and the amount of work is awe-inspiring, but at the end of the day, it's still a bunch of toothpicks. If someone bumped into it a little too hard, I'd be afraid of it falling to pieces.(less)
This was a veeeeeeerrrrrrryyyyyyyyy long book, not in terms of pages, but in terms of narrative. While this is the first in a trilogy, and I had expec...moreThis was a veeeeeeerrrrrrryyyyyyyyy long book, not in terms of pages, but in terms of narrative. While this is the first in a trilogy, and I had expected some foundation building in preparation for the rest of the series, I thought it took too long to actually get to the meaty part of the story. I would say roughly 70% of the novel was spent setting up this universe (or multiverses, if we were to buy into the science used in this series) and its inhabitants, humans and aliens alike. I can see why Scalzi did so: he wanted to underscore the fact that his hero, John Perry, was human and that he wanted to retain his humanity in an otherwise alien environment and world.
My other beef with the novel was that this is supposed to occur hundreds of years into our future. Nevertheless, the technology, culture and society in Perry's Earth seems to be stuck in our current time. The educational system that he went through seems very similar to ours, which, honestly, I just don't buy -- I graduated from college in the 90s and kids in college these days are learning different (i.e., more advanced) things than I did, and I was a chemistry major who took lots of physics, math and computer science classes! There's growth in education, propelled more often than not by technological advances and new scientific discoveries, and I really just find it hard to believe that in Perry's world, what is being taught (e.g., math and science) isn't at a higher level than what should be expected. That, and the fact that 4H fairs and bake-offs still seem to be prevalent. I can barely find one of those where I live these days!
Well, those were my two main complaints. I really enjoyed everything else. The characters were well-developed. I enjoyed all chapters that included the Special Forces and thought that these were the most scientifically believable parts of the novel. I do think that Scalzi may be using his humor/sarcasm too much as a crutch. While there were some genuinely funny moments, there were some others where I thought the levity was forced or fell flat.
Nevertheless, it was a good read. I am hoping that with all the foundation work already in place -- we know the main players, we know the universe, we know how the military/political/social constructs work -- that the second book, The Ghost Brigades, will flow a lot better, with more action, faster pacing and less navel gazing.(less)
Okay, so towards the end of Insurgent, I sat there for a few moments and thought, "Gee...more
What. In. The. World. Was That?!?!
What just happened?
Okay, so towards the end of Insurgent, I sat there for a few moments and thought, "Gee, did Veronica Roth just write herself into a corner? That was probably one of the craziest endings, and not in a good way. Now how is she going to write herself out of it?"
Did she write her way out of her conundrum? Did she come up with a creative solution to the ending of Insurgent? Did she turn the tables on us? Make us sit up? Stand up? Raise our fists? Cheer?
Ummm, I'm pretty sure I didn't do any of the above. There were inklings, sure, scattered here and there. But did any of it truly get me excited, as excited as I was after Divergent? No, not really, which left me sad. Annoyed. And frustrated.
I had looked forward to this book, darn it! I looked forward to seeing what Four and Tris would do, where the story took them. What creative way Roth would come up with during this third act.
In reality, there were so many plot holes and head-scratching moments during Allegiant that I had to put it down multiple times and walk away. Sure, I liked parts of it: getting Tobias' POV, how Tris and Four finally understood what being in a relationship meant, Tris and Caleb playing Candor, the expansion of Cara's, Christina's and Uriah's characters, the transformation of O'Hare into a bureaucratic facility. There were some things that were worthwhile and made me want to continue reading.
But the parts that left me going "Huh?!?" were more numerous: - The GD vs. GP war (really, we're going to go there?) - How gullible everyone was, buying into genetic purity (made me think of Khan and his eugenics war) - How self-righteous and smug Tris could be - How Tobias could end up so wrong, so unsure of himself, so unlike the Four from the previous books - How one-dimensional Tobias' parents were - How stupid Tris' plan was...and how crazy it was that everyone went along with her - How biological warfare has been in existence for so long, especially in our time, that it boggles the mind that this novel, set centuries in the future, still hasn't gotten it right
I'm also not convinced that Tris' fate was really all that necessary. (view spoiler)[I've read two books this year where the main character sacrificed his or her life to save their loved ones/humanity: Mark Lawrence's uber-fantastic-still-gives-me-chills-and-brings-a-tear-to-my-eye-each-time-I-think-about-it Emperor of Thorns and this one. Jorg's death left me crying out "Nooooo!" It left me dumbfounded and for a long while, I sat there, stunned, knowing there was no other possible way he could have ended it. And that made it worthwhile.
I didn't feel that at all. If anything, I saw it a mile away, and it left me with some pretty tired eyes from all the eye rolling.
I felt that Tris' death was another way to get an extra fifty pages out of the novel. It was a way to extend a story that had gone on too long. And worse, it was a way to add drama where it wasn't needed. There was already so much going on, that when it came, it seemed so pointless. I'm not sure that her death actually pushed the story forward. Roth could have accomplished the same ending without killing Tris off. (hide spoiler)]
I thought what Roth did was self-indulgent. Could she have accomplished a similar ending without making Tris go through all that? Yes, absolutely, especially since Tobias still had to maneuver around what was happening in Chicago.
Was Roth trying to make a point about Tris' intrinsic selflessness, her comprehension of what it meant to be Abnegation? To be the person she felt her parents would approve of? Sure.
Was Roth trying to show how people's spirits hurt, grieve, move on, heal over time? That each person you love becomes a part of you, and can never be torn from you (except if you take memory serum)? Yes. The characters mirrored Chicago: broken, hurting, on their last legs. But is rebirth possible? Yes, to a degree.
I get all that.
But again, what she did didn't leave this reader convinced that what happened to Tris was the only rational way to end the story. That it was the only true course left to her, that there was no other possible way around it. And because I wasn't convinced of these things, I felt that it was a cheap ending.
A cheap ending that went on too long.
It wasn't a bad book, but it certainly wasn't what I was hoping it would be. Nevertheless, I don't regret reading it. I enjoyed the first two, and while this one left me wanting, maybe that's okay. Maybe it's enough. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I remember seeing the movie (with Kyle McLachlan) during the summer when I was in high school, and thinking, boy, this movie really did the book a dis...moreI remember seeing the movie (with Kyle McLachlan) during the summer when I was in high school, and thinking, boy, this movie really did the book a disservice! While I'm not a big fan of Frank Herbert, I did enjoy this book at the time.(less)
I really enjoyed this book, which I never would've read except at the urging of my soon-to-be brother-in-law. And I'm glad I did! Very well-written, v...moreI really enjoyed this book, which I never would've read except at the urging of my soon-to-be brother-in-law. And I'm glad I did! Very well-written, very well-developed characters.(less)