I did not hate this book (hate would be too strong a word, and I can't hate it because I applaud the fact that Ken Follett attempted to write an epicI did not hate this book (hate would be too strong a word, and I can't hate it because I applaud the fact that Ken Follett attempted to write an epic novel). But I did not like it. I didn't like it from the start; his writing style hit me like a brick, but Jim thoroughly enjoyed the book that I kept trying to convince myself that I ought to give it a chance, hoping it would get better. When I was about 500 pages in, he saw how miserable I was and asked why I didn't just stop reading it, but at that point, I was invested in it; I had spent all that time getting that far, that I needed to finish it, and I couldn't wait to come to the end. I kept counting down: "Only 450 pages left; only 300 to go; last 200 pages...yay, I have 50 pages left!" Those fifty pages were the toughest to get through. By the time I was at the end, I thought it was a wasted effort - both on his part and mine.
It's so much easier to explicate on what I did not like because there were so many things: - I loathed the writing style (he vacillated between pages and pages of highly complex architectural discourses to third-grade level simple sentences grouped into short paragraphs). Sometimes it was bearable. Other times, I wanted to pull my hair out. There were times when I felt the only time he came alive as an author was when he was discussing architecture, but these parts were so didactic in nature that it couldn't hold my interest for long periods of time. - I did not like the author's narrative style. He had to tie everything together (causality was so prevalent throughout the text that I wondered how he didn't work in how the killing of a fly affected events 60 years later). Every single storyline was wrapped up - too neatly for my liking, in some cases. Everyone was tied to someone else (it was like playing Six Degrees); every single character had to have a denouement; every little plot twist had to be explained; closure had to be achieved, no matter how preposterous the circumstances, over time and space. - The characterization was poor. In fact, it was appalling how two-dimensional these characters were. Good people were good. Bad people were loathsome. As time went on, the good were always suffering one thing or another; they were put upon; they were harrassed; they were constantly challenged and put to the test like Job (something Follett actually used as a sermon!). The badfolk became more oppressive over time; they were not only detestable, but they had absolutely no redeeming qualities. And to go with a typical medieval stereotype, the good were always excessively beautiful, honorable, intelligent (geniuses or savants, even!) - and if they weren't rich, they would be at the end (I half expected Havelok the Dane and his refrigerator mouth to pop up somewhere, proving once and for all that in the medieval period, to be good was to have the purest light shining out of your mouth each time you opened it). Nevertheless, the bad became uglier, became more despotic, scheming throughout life to get the better of their enemies (the goodfolk). But in the end, good always triumphed over evil; those who could, repented and were forgiven. Those who couldn't, were killed off somehow, because apparently, death is the only way an evil person gets his (or her) dues. And then everyone had a happy ending. I hate happy endings when they're so obviously contrived. And this work was so elaborately, exhaustively, thoroughly contrived. (Maybe it's not too late for me to change my mind and say I hated it. *grin*) - Historically speaking, there was so much left to be desired. Granted, this novel was written two decades ago, and there have been new discoveries about the medieval period since Follett started his research. But he got it all wrong anyhow. His idea of medieval life was so...off, that it hurt my head to continue reading sometimes. I had to pause periodically and rant to Jim about what I currently found off-putting (for example, there weren't many literate people at the time; at the time this novel was set, there was still a distinct divide between England and Wales; reading and writing were two separate skill sets, and people who knew how to read did not necessarily know how to write and vice versa; orality was a prevalent part of storytelling back then and books not so much and yet somehow, he conflated much of both; manuscript writing was either orally dictated or copied tediously by the monks - his concept of a scriptorium was incomplete, defective - and there has been so much written about this that it saddened me; he used modern translations of medieval poetical/verse works and couldn't explain even alliterative verse form effectively - I even wonder if he knew what it was; his understanding of the languages of the period - Old English, Middle English, Latin, Norman French, Old French, Middle French, etc. - and what was spoken by the aristocrats vs. the peasants vs. the growing middle classes disgusts me; he showed a lack of understanding of medieval law, medieval rights, the social classes, gender roles, even the tales and legends of the period, in both England and France; priests were quite low on the totem pole, in terms of the religious hierarchy, and were quite disparaged yet somehow, that didn't quite come across in this novel...I could go on and on, but I won't).
And the historical part of the novel I just found lacking. There are enough histories and chronicles, contemporaneously written, of the time, that he did not have to deviate much from history. There is so much written about the period between the death of Henry I through the civil wars between the Empress Matilda and King Stephen, to the time that Henry II ascended the throne (including the martyrdom of Thomas a Beckett), that I don't quite understand how he couldn't have mined the chronicles for better material. I understand that this is why it's called historical fiction, and that there will always be some element of fiction interspersed with historical fact. But the fictional aspects usually have to do with surrounding characters and situations that bolster the history. The fiction is not necessarily to the history itself. Many times, when writing historical fiction, the author has to beware the pitfalls of creating a revisionist retelling, interspersing his or her own ideals or beliefs of what should have been to what was. If this novel had been marketed as a revisionary narrative, it would have been okay. But it wasn't. I'm just glad that the historical aspect of the novel just served as the background and not the real story. Because then, I probably would've stopped reading.
The premise was a good one and held a lot of promise. It could've been a great historical epic had it been handled by a more assured writer. By someone who was more of a visionary, someone who had the patience to do exhaustive research or who knew how to craft richly developed characters. It needed an author who understood the epic genre, who knew how to mold the epic, who knew how to keep the narrative going, seemlessly binding time with narration and the human condition, without resorting to stereotypes and grating drama. And most importantly, it needed someone who understood when the story had been told; that while there will always be other stories to tell, that each book has its own natural end, and that these stories may not belong in this book.
Ken Follett may be a bestselling author of suspense novels (and even historical fiction such as Pillars of the Earth and World without End), but he is no writer of epics. Compared to writers of historical fiction such as Edward Rutherford, James Michener, Bernard Cornwell or Margaret George, Ken Follett has a long way to go....more
Well, I finished this book in 4 days. This was definitely a page turner, but for me, not in a good way. This was less of an "I can't stop now becauseWell, I finished this book in 4 days. This was definitely a page turner, but for me, not in a good way. This was less of an "I can't stop now because I really like the story and want to get to the bottom of things" and more of a "This book is so disturbing, if I don't finish it soon, I'm just prolonging my own suffering."
First off: it was well-written enough (although Gillian Flynn has an annoying habit of using "said" way too often...surely she could've referred to a thesaurus every now and then and used other words such as asked, lamented, cried, sputtered, ventured, mused, begged, implied, etc.) and she had formulated a fairly good whodunit. She certainly keeps you guessing regarding the identity of the real killer, even though she left enough clues from the beginning, and for that, I applaud her. Her little switcheroo at the end was entertaining (although not entirely surprising). She also paints both a pretty and a cynical picture of Missouri (having never been there nor known anyone from that state, I wouldn't be able to comment on the veracity of her descriptions). Her character development was above average, paying close attention to her main players and adding some color to the supporting ones. I do think she had a tendency to stereotype, but it wasn't distracting enough for me to dislike the book on this count. If anything, the mystery part of her novel played very much like a TV mystery (if sometimes a tad screechy).
Despite all that, however, the novel itself was disturbing on so many levels. It was a complex psychological narrative dealing with cutting, inferiority complexes, psychological diseases such as Munchausen's syndrome (and Munchausen's by Proxy), and sadism and masochism. In my mind, it would've been one thing to approach these topics as the alarming afflictions they are, to not only inform the audience of their existence and pique their curiosity, but to play on the audience's emotions in a "positive" way (there is such a thing!): confuse them, confound them, elicit distress, frustration and even anger, maybe provoke the audience to look these up in other books/on the internet but then walk away from the story and their research with a little more knowledge but remain relatively unscathed.
But all too often, I felt that every time Flynn wrote about her characters' psychological illnesses, it was meant less to provoke and more to titillate. Whenever she wrote about sex or cutting or even the emotional tortures her characters inflicted on themselves or onto each other, she left me feeling extremely dirty and rattled. I'm neither delicate nor squeamish by any means, but I sometimes felt as if she gained some form of risqué enjoyment from writing in this manner, as if she relished the act of noting down the various debasing acts she described so vividly, so viscerally. Even her detailed meanderings regarding the pork industry made me (temporarily) steel away from bacon, ham and any pork products. Throughout some parts, I almost equated her words as a type of torture porn, only not in film form.
As contemporary works go, I've read worse, and I've certainly read better. Maybe this just isn't my type of novel or genre. Still, I got through the whole thing, but I don't think I'll be journeying through another one of Flynn's novels. I think that as a TV or movie critic, she gives very insightful critiques and I generally like her tone. But if this novel is any indication of the sort of fiction writing she will continue to do, I think I will make a concerted effort to avoid her other works, not because they're not well-written, but because it's just not my cup of tea....more
I remember my 8th birthday, when I got a slew of Enid Blyton books, starting with The Faraway Tree series. I was instantly and completely hooked. I thI remember my 8th birthday, when I got a slew of Enid Blyton books, starting with The Faraway Tree series. I was instantly and completely hooked. I think I spent the rest of the year devouring everything I could find by her, making endless trips to the library almost every other day, spending hours deciding which book I wanted next. I remember I was horribly upset about 15 years ago, when a pipe burst in my apartment and soaked through several boxes containing my childhood books. Unfortunately, there was so much water and mold damage that I wasn't able to save many of them, and my three Faraway Tree books did not survive. It was a lovely surprise then when, in Dec. 2006, my husband (somehow), managed to find hardbound reprints of the three books - that made for a REALLY nice Christmas!
It's such a shame that Blyton never really became very popular in the US (and certainly, not as popular as J.K. Rowling). She had a really good feel for children and fantasy, and creating magical lands and seemlessly weaving in adventures where you felt like "Yes, this COULD happen, even to me!" Even her mystery/adventure books (Famous Five, Secret Seven), in my mind at least, rivaled the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series. Her heroes/heroines were much younger than Nancy Drew and Joe and Frank Hardy, but maybe that's why they resonated with me more, at that time. That, and she just helped me fall in love with England. :-)...more
Narrative: 5-stars. Highly intelligent, compelling, wonderful world-building. It's a novel of grand ideas yet so 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....more
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 expecThis 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....more