The Forever War is an indisputable sci-fi classic, praised to the heavens as one of the greatest sci-fi war novels—nay, greatest war novels, period—ev...moreThe Forever War is an indisputable sci-fi classic, praised to the heavens as one of the greatest sci-fi war novels—nay, greatest war novels, period—ever. It's brilliant, it's amazing, it's fantastic, it redefines reality.
But I didn't love it.
Unlike its predecessor, Starship Troopers, which glorified war, it takes inspiration from the Vietnam War, which Joe Haldeman actually fought in. Vietnam was the "forever war" of its time (and our time), a conflict many people didn't believe in that went on for what seemed like forever (almost 20 years!). The way Haldeman maps that experience into a sci-fi realm is pretty brilliant: he uses the principles of relativistic time dilation to make the war last for centuries. Even though the main character, William Mandella, only experiences a couple years from his own perspective, traveling at relativistic speeds means that the rest of the universe passes him by much more quickly. The world changes in significant ways every time he pops out.
There's quite a bit of hard sci-fi in the book, and I did love the way that time dilation affected everything. It would take so long in real-time to reach battles so many light-years away that by the time they got there, the situation could have changed, for all they knew. New recruits would be essentially from Mandella's future, making him an archaic relic at the age of twenty-two. In addition, as centuries pass, Haldeman posits great sweeping changes in human society and economy dealing with overpopulation, food rationing, and homosexuality.
For all that is clearly good and interesting about the book, however, I could never quite get into it. I found the battle scenes hard to follow, but the battle scenes weren't really the point. And yet they took up a lot of space, sitting there and confusing me. The apparent free-love attitude toward sex in the military disoriented me (Cory Doctorow called Old Man's War "The Forever War with better sex," and I'd agree, because the sex in this book is...weird). The whole book is kind of disorienting because it jumps around a lot, both in time—because of the relativistic speeds—and focus. It was hard to grab on to a strong plot thread that tied everything together besides "Yep, that war sure is still going on." In a sense, I understand this was probably intentional to, again, replicate the Vietnam War experience. It's not like it was a coherent time in a soldier's life. And this solder is kind of a jerk, and, while I sympathized with his general plight, I never really cared about him as a character.
Overall, The Forever War has some great ideas and gives you a lot to think about. It's one of those books that is more intellectually stimulating than it is enjoyable to read.(less)
The Dark Is Rising Sequence is a classic fantasy series that begins with this book, which...is almost completely bereft of fantasy. Simon, Jane, and B...moreThe Dark Is Rising Sequence is a classic fantasy series that begins with this book, which...is almost completely bereft of fantasy. Simon, Jane, and Barnabas Drew rent an old house in Trewissick, where they find an old manuscript in the attic. A manuscript that has directions to the Grail or something! Look, it's connected to Arthurian legend somehow! And who should help them on their quest but their Great Uncle GandalfDumbledore Merry, who informs them that there are good forces and evil forces after the Grail (he is on the side of good...probably). Well, these scrappy kids do run into the evil forces as they try to crack the code of the manuscript in a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys-style mystery adventure.
The kids are likable (especially Barnabas, the Arthurian expert), and the villains are menacing, but the goings-on are surprisingly dull for the most part. Basically, the kids go out and do something, and they come home and talk about it, like, forever. And that cycle just repeats itself over and over. Also, because the clues in the manuscript are largely visual, it was hard for me to really engage with their sense of discovery (I do much better with clever riddles and codes and things). There is some excitement now and then, but the narrative is so simple—there are zero subplots—that, in the end, it doesn't seem like all that much has happened.
The epilogue produced a "Holy fuck! HOLY FUCK!" from me, however, so I look forward to the rest of the series, which I believe is more fantastical.(less)
The first ten pages of World War Z are better than anything in The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead. This book is told...moreThe first ten pages of World War Z are better than anything in The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead. This book is told as a series of first-person accounts collected by the author. We hear from the Chinese doctor who discovers Patient Zero. An Israeli spy who helps first identify the worldwide outbreaks and attempts to curb the epidemic. A Russian soldier who is horrified at the lengths the military will go to to ensure humanity's survival. A Japanese otaku who manages to survive in a Kyoto high-rise all by himself. A Hollywood filmmaker who creates propaganda films to lift people's spirits. A Cuban banker who reflects on his island country's ability to withstand the zombie hordes in comparison to the rest of the world.
World War Z lives up to its title. It is a book about the world and its different cultures and peoples, how we all have different responses to conflicts. It is a book about war and how all the rules go out the window when you're fighting the undead, how desperate times call for desperate measures. It is a book about zombies and how they are a terrifying foe because they don't think, they don't see reason, they don't have strategies, they don't plan, they just keep coming and coming and coming. There is not a trace of the sly wink-wink sometimes present in The Zombie Survival Guide; this is a straight-up horror/war novel about the Zombie War. Some stories are truly chilling.
Many of the accounts could function as stand-alone short stories, like that of the aforementioned otaku or the tale of a downed Air Force pilot trying to survive in the wilderness with the help of a woman on the other end of her radio. Some accounts are not so much about the narratives but about the worldbuilding, like the various testimonies from soldiers in special units. Since it is a war book, the majority of the people interviewed are in the military, so we see the war mostly through their eyes, but we get a healthy dose of perspective from civilians as well.
The book starts to lose some steam three-quarters of the way through, as it becomes a little repetitive and redundant and repetitive and redundant, but it does pick up a little. It does suffer from not having a clear narrative throughline with a definite climax, so you spend the last fifty or so pages wondering if you're in the falling action or the denouement, and if the latter, man, this is a really long denouement. That's the nature of the structure, though, and I kind of have to respect Brooks for not attempting to fit his story into an artificial narrative construct. It feels far more realistic this way.
World War Z is an impressive achievement in many ways. Brooks clearly did extensive research on the countries he writes about, as well as the militaries. It's also very well written; the dozens of characters, while they may not all be distinct and memorable, feel like real people, and when they get a little poetic, it's natural and not overwrought, the words of a survivor, of a person who's seen horrible things and lived to tell about it. The whole book feels eerily real, like maybe it all really did happen and someone just erased it from the timeline. Besides the zombies, it doesn't seem that far-fetched.(less)
The Zombie Survival Guide, despite being classified under Humor, is not very funny. It is quite serious. Impressively serious. Brooks conjures up a wo...moreThe Zombie Survival Guide, despite being classified under Humor, is not very funny. It is quite serious. Impressively serious. Brooks conjures up a world where zombies have been around for centuries, a product of the Solanum virus. In the first section, he lays out the rules of his conception of zombies and how it differs from the Hollywood depiction and the original voodoo zombie. He spends pages detailing zombie physiology. At times, you can detect the presence of a tongue placed firmly in a cheek, but most of the time, there is no joke: Brooks fully commits to his conceit.
This is a survival guide, though. After describing the adversary, he devotes a chapter to weaponry, pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of various firearms and melee weapons. The most obvious and convenient weapons are not always the best! For instance, a machine gun may make you feel like you're an unstoppable killing machine, but it's an inefficient device against an enemy that requires head shots. And it could be more trouble than it's worth, since you may just create a swarm of limbless, writhing ghouls that are now out of your sight. Weapons, gear, armor—Brooks covers it all. He asks a bit much of his readers, however; his recommended gear is quite extensive and not always easily obtainable. (He also thinks a bit much of his readers, expecting them to seriously consider plate armor as a defense measure.)
After the preparation, Brooks gives meticulous advice for the following four scenarios: On the Defense, On the Run, On the Attack, and Living in an Undead World. He describes how best to react to each situation and then how to adapt. Terrain, vehicles, fortifications, and battle strategies are all covered. As always, extensive preparation is the best defense against a zombie outbreak; Brooks outlines a plan that should go into effect years before it becomes necessary to implement fully. Brooks is extremely thorough in his assessment of zombie outbreaks, and I love that he always factors in the human element. Certain actions should be avoided not because of any danger from zombies but because of danger from your fellow humans who have not read the Guide and are acting erratically. Also, there will be brigands.
Finally, Brooks details a series of Recorded Attacks, the earliest of which occurred in 60,000 B.C. This section is the most intriguing and interesting, of course, especially because it's sort of a taste of what you're expecting from World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Some of his alternate-history takes are rather creepy and clever (you better believe Roanoke is included). I enjoyed the historical account of the progression of human-zombie relations and knowledge, the focus on identifying the first zombie hunter and the milestones involved in determining the nature of the Solanum virus.
The Zombie Survival Guide is a very good, very well thought-out book, and it provides a good background for an even better, even more thought-out book.(less)
Howl's Moving Castle is about Sophie, the eldest of three daughters, who becomes even elder when she's turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Wa...moreHowl's Moving Castle is about Sophie, the eldest of three daughters, who becomes even elder when she's turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. She takes refuge in the titular moving castle, where she meets the wizard Howl and his fire demon, Calcifer. Somebody ought to be able to turn her back into a teenage girl, right? Problem is, she can't tell anyone she's under a spell. Oops.
I already knew I would like the book when I saw that Diana Wynne Jones was using one of my favorite chapter-naming conventions, leading to chapters called "In which Sophie expresses her feelings with weed-killer" and "Which is far too full of washing." That sense of humor carries into the prose as well, which is light and clever, especially when it comes to Sophie's inner monologue, which is very amusing. She is entirely too adjusted to being an old woman, but it's just that kind of book.
There is a lot going on in the book, and about halfway through, it becomes apparent that it's not all just there for flavor! Every fucking thing is important. EVERY FUCKING LITTLE THING. I don't even think I'm kidding. Every single little throwaway detail ends up mattering. It's pretty amazing and very impressive how well constructed the plot is. There are like fifteen thousand plot twists at the end; my head was spinning.(less)
The series has shaken off the weaknesses of the first two books and really found a solid groove now. This time we find Harry and Michael teaming up ag...moreThe series has shaken off the weaknesses of the first two books and really found a solid groove now. This time we find Harry and Michael teaming up again to find a religious artifact, which opens up the worldbuilding in that arena. Butcher introduces a fearsome new creature and a formidable foe, in addition to some new allies, fellow Knights of the Cross. The more Butcher invents new mythology, the more the series sets itself apart from similar stories. Although I do get annoyed that, like in Supernatural, the religious mythology added to this paranormal world is from the typical Christian framework, Butcher makes it work, and I enjoy the Knights of the Cross enough to make up for it. They're not your cookie-cutter zealots; they're individual people with their own feelings on the matter, and I find that interesting. Meanwhile, though, Harry also has to deal with yet another threat on his life and yet another return of a woman from his past. Dare I say that Harry Dresden is maturing? I didn't think I'd become invested in his character growth, but he has to make some hard choices in this book, and I think they'll stick with him. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the introductions of Ivy and Molly, who I know are popular characters. I look forward to seeing more of them in the future.(less)
**spoiler alert** Thoughts on a Re-read Six Years Later
Actually, I think I expressed my thoughts pretty well six years ago. I pretty much agree with m...more**spoiler alert** Thoughts on a Re-read Six Years Later
Actually, I think I expressed my thoughts pretty well six years ago. I pretty much agree with myself!
Holy motherfucking Jesus Christ on a stick wow.
I'm not sure I should even try to write a coherent post about everything because it's so frickin' long. But let me first try a list of all that is awesome.
The hot blonde Fate. Lucifer as a nightclub singer. The framing of Lyta's half-crazed wanderings through the city and other realms. The pretty colors and sharp, chiaroscuro-tastic artwork. The very first panel we see of Dream remaking the Corinthian. Matthew. The Corinthian. Matthew and the Corinthian. Lucien. That Lucien was the first Raven. That Delirium's entire plotline is searching for her doggie. Rose Walker. Nuala. That Puck, of course, stole the baby. The old woman's story that ends with a giant worm eating a man's face. The structure of Part Eight, which spans one week in the life of Dream. That the Corinthian cuts Loki's fucking eyes out. Merv Pumpkinhead's last stand. The visual shock of seeing Dream bleed. Matthew, again. Death. That Daniel becomes Dream. The framing device...that ends in cleavage.
No one I've talked to has listed this one as a favorite, which frightened me at first because I thought, well, if the series peaks at Brief Lives and Kindly Ones is ginormous, um. This is definitely one of my favorites; it's so damn epic. It's the culmination of so much that's gone on in the last eight books.
You know, looking back, Rose's storyline didn't seem to serve a larger purpose, especially because the whole thing with Desire leaving her realm was never explained. I mean, I like Rose, so I didn't mind, but it's only now that I realize it never connected to the main plot. Oh, wait, she was the babysitter, but that was in the first couple issues, and she didn't have to go on her big journey to England and be taking care of Zelda and all that. Although her little fling with Jack was one bit of relationshipness that actually worked for me.
But the main plot, geez. You've got Lyta wandering around and joining the Furies, Matthew and the Corinthian searching for a baby, Loki setting people on fire, the Furies rampaging through the Dreaming and killing people who shouldn't be killed, and Dream going out in one big self-flagellating flash of glory.
We harken back to Brief Lives, and Dream finally admits he has changed. As you may well know, one of my pet themes is identity issues, and Kindly Ones hits it much better than A Game of You tried to. You've got the Corinthian trying to come to terms with his own new existence despite having shades of his old self still around. Matthew struggles to understand his past to better understand his future. Nuala chooses to be without her glamour because she feels more comfortable as her true self. Thessaly has changed her name but not her game. And Dream, Dream contends with the age-old notion that it is our actions that define us. He has certain responsibilities; he does what he must do. (A slight tangent: this is a being who has put parts of himself into precious stones, so does he even feel complete?)
It's a fabulous tragedy, this. Dream kills his own son, and despite the fact that he did it on his son's wish, he is prepared to accept the natural consequences of that action. Those years of imprisonment really fucked him up good. He is so tied to his responsibilities that he cannot abandon his realm like Destruction did; he finds another way out. It's all so complicated and complex and depressing.
And of course, it all comes back to stories, even in this installment. It was Orpheus' stories that made the Furies cry, that brought about his death. The Fates spin the tale enclosed between the covers. Destiny carries around the story of existence. Stories and songs abound, shaping the fabric of the universe.
As I move on to The Wake, I still have so many questions. Why did Desire want Death to shed family blood, and why did she leave her realm? Who manipulated Loki and Puck into stealing Daniel? Who is the other inhabitant of the Dreaming who was once a Raven? Shit, Desire didn't fuck Rose in her sleep and impregnate her, did it? And other questions I'm forgetting right now.
Very clever, Gaiman. Dream is dead, and thus now it is time to Wake.(less)
Oh, welcome to Sandman, everyone. A massive improvement over the first volume as Neil Gaiman shows what he really...moreThoughts on a Re-Read Six Years Later
Oh, welcome to Sandman, everyone. A massive improvement over the first volume as Neil Gaiman shows what he really wants to do with this series. So many important characters introduced! Desire, Despair, Rose Walker, Matthew, Hector and Lyta Hall, the Corinthian, Hob Gadling, Fiddler's Green, just to name a few. The series is definitely coming into its own. And what an amazing piece of work it's already shaping up to be. Everything is epic and connected, spanning centuries and eons. And I love the worldview being presented here, just the way the Endless and the living interact, how the anthropomorphic characters really do represent facets of humanity, and thus Gaiman manages to say a lot of interesting things without actually saying them. Sandman is like nothing I've ever read...except Sandman, six years ago.(less)
Hazel and Foxglove from The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You take center stage in this book after a brief appearance in Death: The High Cost of Living...moreHazel and Foxglove from The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You take center stage in this book after a brief appearance in Death: The High Cost of Living promised that they would be having a child and Foxglove was on the brink of stardom. Here, we see what those events have done to their relationship (hint: nothing good) and reflect on their past. The book is more complex and introspective than The High Cost of Living, which is both good and bad, as sometimes it overreaches a bit. It's also, in general, less enjoyable, fraught with relationship drama and a less perky—though no less compassionate—Death. Regardless, it's another strong three-issue miniseries with memorable side characters.(less)
If you're looking to creep yourself out without even knowing you're doing it, this is the book for you. It's very disturbing but in an understated way...moreIf you're looking to creep yourself out without even knowing you're doing it, this is the book for you. It's very disturbing but in an understated way. Everything is very grounded, and nothing is over-the-top; you feel like you're reading about real people, like this could have really happened.
The story revolves around a journalist, Camille Preaker, who reluctantly goes back to her hometown to investigate a couple child murders. The town of Wind Gap is one of those small towns that seems idyllic on the surface until you start listening to all the gossip and discover the human nastiness that lies beneath the surface. And, again, it's not like this place has some ridiculous Big Secret like they're sacrificing out-of-towners or something. It's just...regular stuff.
But Camille is FULL OF ANGST OMG. First of all, she used to be a cutter, and not just any old cutter: she cut words into her skin. It's a neat little narrative gimmick that allows the author to give character insight by simply mentioning related words on her body. Second, her little sister died when she was younger. Her mom is an acerbic, unloving bitca. Her half-sister is a wild child. Her stepdad is barely there. Flynn has no desire to put the fun back in dysfunctional. But a lot of the book focuses on Camille's attempts to better understand her mother and sister after having left them so many years ago.
The murder mystery is just a vehicle for the real story, which is about Camille's family and the town of Wind Gap. You sort of figure out who the murderer is along with Camille; there's no magic "Aha!" moment. It's not that kind of book.
Hell, Stephen King called it an "admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights." Even Stephen King got creeped out by this book! That's when you know you've won.(less)