Here's a selection from my unofficial "must read" shelf. I don't know how novels get drafted into the velvet rope VIP section of popular literature, bHere's a selection from my unofficial "must read" shelf. I don't know how novels get drafted into the velvet rope VIP section of popular literature, but The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seems to have the honor of being a book that one simply MUST read. I suppose I'll pick up Gone Girl and The DaVinci Code after this.
This is very much sci-fi lite. Douglas Adams does not go in for much in the way of world building, and for that matter he doesn't go for much character development either. I don't know any more about Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, or Trillian by the final pages than I did in the opening chapter. I'm not sure this particularly matters since the author's slim plot and spartan characters are really just oxen to pull his wagonload of satire.
The zingers are good and plenty. Of particular interest to the author are the targets of bureaucracy and academic pedants. You don't have to dig very deeply into this novel to know that, like all satires, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is about us. The crux of the story is Adams's bon mot at the expense of humanity's haggling over questions of existence, and what everything means. Unsurprisingly, the butt of the joke isn't the answer, but the asking of it.
I laughed often at Adams's wit, but I wanted more to the story. I could have enjoyed a book that tempered the zingers with more substance to his characters. This is such a short read that it felt more like a collection of personal essays of the author's musings. Entertaining, but light on story. ...more
Technically this is a second reading for me. I picked up this novel in high school, but my memory of it was too foggy to offer an honest review. It isTechnically this is a second reading for me. I picked up this novel in high school, but my memory of it was too foggy to offer an honest review. It is a fairly quick read, I started and finished it over a weekend.
This dark children's fantasy is one of a handful of standalone novels in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Most of his books feature one of a few troops of recurring characters (the city watch, the university wizards, the witches) that inhabit the same world. But The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents doesn't share anyone in common with the rest of the series except Death.
The novel is about the stories we tell ourselves, and it's also about the surprisingly horrible implications of anthropomorphic animals. Maurice and a clan of bright rats have a clever scheme going: infest small towns then squeeze a few dollars out of them to be lead away by an ersatz pied piper. But in a new town, they come up against two separate man-made horrors: rat coursing (baiting terriers to kill rats) and a rat-king.
The fate of the educated rodents is a sad one. They have all the instincts of rodents, all the brain power of humans, but what they don't have is the subtlety to understand non-literalism. The heart of their naïveté is the story within the story, a copy of a children's book they keep about forest creatures who live together and wear clothes and in which nothing bad ever happens. The rats take this as gospel, that there is a utopia to be found somewhere. The contrast between this fantasy they cherish and the reality they live in drives home the point of how terrible anthropomorphic animals would actually be. To give a creature the breadth of emotion and intelligence of a person, but in the body of vermin and all the dangers that entails, that is a dark and frightening reality.
I enjoyed this a lot. It's pretty damn dark for a children's fantasy. I would not rank it among Pratchett's best, because despite having one of the scarier malevolent characters I've read, the stakes never felt as high as his best work, and this novel doesn't exemplify his brilliant wit. His best young adult stories are the Tiffany Aching books. But I wouldn't let that dissuade anyone from giving this a try, it's a wonderful story. ...more
Pierce Brown's second novel in the Red Rising Trilogy does not pull any punches. If anything, the tension he built up in the first installment is amplPierce Brown's second novel in the Red Rising Trilogy does not pull any punches. If anything, the tension he built up in the first installment is amplified in Golden Son, and by the last page, we're left with lot of doubt, dread, and heartbreak.
Darrow has risen in Gold culture, and he's now a Lancer for Augustus, one of the oldest and most prestigious families in Gold society. Secretly, he maintains communications with the revolutionary forces that made him into a Gold in Red Rising, while simultaneously currying favor with powerful Golds.
By design, Darrow makes himself the tip of the spear in an act of civil war between Gold houses, which fractures the society into warring alliances. Paralleling his efforts to destabilize the Golds' power, Darrow's friendships with Mustang, Lorn, and Sevro complicate his plans. He struggles to reconcile the destructive path he's on with the trust he's built with a handful of allies, who are themselves a part of the very Society he seeks to undermine. Here, Brown does a good job exploring the moral ambiguities between the different castes in Golden Son. There are deeply conscientious and kind Golds, and there are ruthless, manipulative Reds even among the revolutionaries that want the freedom Darrow wants.
The violence is even more brutal than the first novel. And the evil in some of the Golds is hard to swallow. In the climactic moments there is betrayal that will test your willingness to keep reading. I was surprised how much I cared about the disparate characters Brown has created, but the ending really knocked the wind out of me.
As in the first book, Brown is somewhat unsophisticated in his prose, and he slips into hackneyed cliches and silly references too much. "Never tell me the odds!" is an actual line from the book (Empire Strikes Back, really?). But this is still compelling fast-paced sci-fi, and the world Brown created in Red Rising gets much bigger in Golden Son....more
What if Peter Wiggin went to Battle School, not Ender? What if Achilles ran the school?
That's a distillation of my experience with Red Rising, seen thWhat if Peter Wiggin went to Battle School, not Ender? What if Achilles ran the school?
That's a distillation of my experience with Red Rising, seen through the prism of the Ender universe. It's not for nothing I bring up Ender's Game; a few of the reviews of Red Rising I read before diving into Pierce Brown's story made the comparison to Orson Scott Card's saga. But those are really superficial comparisons. The battle school of Ender's Game and the Institute of Red Rising, and their respective universes, are worlds apart.
The brutality in Red Rising dwarfs anything I've read in YA fiction before, so much so that it strains the limits of the genre. I strongly urge anyone that has a hard time with violence (including executions, disfigurement, and rape) avoid this book. But with that qualification, I did enjoy this novel.
Red Rising pits our teenaged protagonist Darrow in a competition of survival and conquest against hundreds of sociopathic upper-class monsters, and the competition itself is run by sociopaths. Darrow is an outsider from a low-born caste of Reds, in a rigidly stratified society classified by color. An unjust death of someone very close to him incites a rage that eventually leads Darrow to surgically disguising himself as a Gold (society's elite) so that he may eventually climb the social ladder and strike at the heart of Gold leadership.
If that description has you thinking 'Hunger Games' you're on the right path. But the degree of violence in Red Rising makes all other dystopian YA fiction read like a Nancy Drew novel. I found myself accepting the unacceptable as Darrow ascends from outsider to leader. Darrow is no saint. Despite the righteousness we feel for him and despite his sincere effort to institute justice among these monsters, the novel also negotiates the reader's approval and complicity in Darrow's blood-soaked rise to power. You almost forget that Darrow's aim was to end the Gold's subjugation of the lower classes. He demonstrates some of the cold, savage pragmatism that is the mark of a true Gold.
This was a real page turner, especially in the final chapters. My criticisms of the novel are similar to other dystopian YA fiction. There is a lack of sophistication in Brown's writing, an oversimplification of the good and bad guys. The writing wears its heart on its sleeve, and it telegraphs what's coming to the reader on a few occasions. There's a little too much George Lucas-esque "I've got a bad feeling about this" silliness. But it's still a great read. What a fantastic world Brown has created, with several characters you genuinely care about. I'm anxious to jump into the second novel in the series....more
"On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with n"On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components. We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious."
This is one of the harder books for me to pin down. Because here's the thing: Philip K Dick is a fantastic writer. He has penned some of our most memorable science fiction. He's explored the moral implications of new technology and philosophies and alternate universes with beautiful language.
Why three stars? The Man in the High Castle feels like an incomplete book. It's more a 'day in the life' of several loosely connected characters muddling through a post-WWII America where Japan and Germany won the war. Among them there's a forger, a shopkeeper, a mid-level German bureaucrat, a Japanese official with the Trade Commission, a wanderer in the Rocky Mountains, and a young affluent Japanese couple. And as complex and lush as the author's writing is, it feels directionless at times. Our window into the characters' respective lives is fleeting.
The major plot device in this novel is the story within the story, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. In this universe, it is an alternate history novel in which WWII was won by the Allies. The disparate characters react to it in different ways: some scornfully, some are amused, but a few become almost panicked by its contents. There is a definitely feeling of imbalance, like history is flapping loose as they read this alternate history. The story within the story confronts the unquestioned "rightness" of the Axis Powers' victory in the war, with even some Germans and Japanese questioning whether their own countries ought to have won.
In the final pages of the novel, Juliana (the nomad) confronts the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, so compelled is she by its contents. It's difficult for me describe what I interpret in the last few pages without being super spoilery, but suffice it say that the story within the story and the universe of The Man in the High Castle and the world we know all converge in some way.
I dislike the interpretation that this is an alternate universe in which the real universe (ours) starts to intervene. That's too literal an explanation for me, it cheapens Philip K. Dick's vision. For me, this is a meditation on the moral certitude we have about our past and present. Several of the characters' lives hang on small decisions, minor forks in the road that have large implications. The certainty some of them have about German preeminence after the war are shown to hinge on a very delicate sequence of circumstances that led to the status quo. It throws into sharp relief the fragile nature of the landmarks in our own history (like the Allies winning WWII) that we hold as immutable....more