It’s hard to describe how I feel about The Sparrow. I give it high marks, four of five stars, and consider it one of the most beautiful–and disturbing...moreIt’s hard to describe how I feel about The Sparrow. I give it high marks, four of five stars, and consider it one of the most beautiful–and disturbing–books I’ve read in recent memory.
In the not so distant future of 2019, humanity receives a transmission of alien origin, tracing it back to a star system not too far from Earth. While the world considers, Jesuits plan a trip, gather a team, and travel to the planet of the singers heard in the transmission.
On the planet Rakhat, the source of the songs heard in the transmission, the motley crew of priests, an engineer, doctor, and linguists discover a beautiful world, of colorful species, sentient and otherwise.
Up to now, the plot has all the indications of good science fiction. As the story progressed, and I fell deeper into the lives of Russell's characters, the science fiction became less the plot and more a plot device to move along a deeply moving story.
Deeply moving, and also at times deeply painful. Taking place in 2019 and in 2060, at the beginning and the end of the expedition. The technique is a fascinating, providing constant foreshadowing and allowing comparison of the progress and change as events happen, characters change, and explanation of what and why. While initially the contraposition was confusing, as the stories draw closer together in time the effect is enlightening.
While nothing in the book is salacious, glorifies violence, or profanity, be aware that there are moments where the content is difficult, heavy, and disturbing, though all of it fits and builds to a beautiful story. (less)
If there were a genre for a book that includes the Old West, an alternate American history, a rebel Mormon kingdom, a slave-free Confederacy, more tha...moreIf there were a genre for a book that includes the Old West, an alternate American history, a rebel Mormon kingdom, a slave-free Confederacy, more than a bit of steam punk, fantasy, and an all star cast of historical-larger-than-life-and-truth-is-stranger-than-fiction characters, I don't know what it would be called, but City of the Saints by D.J. Butler has invented it.
And did I mention that it was explosive, fast, and action packed?
On the eve of the American Civil War, the Kingdom of Deseret is the destination for for diplomats, spies, and explorers, Pinkertons, criminals, and mountain men as agents of Queen Victoria, the United States, the Confederacy, and Mexico converge on Salt Lake City. War is imminent, and each is seeking an edge.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened City of the Saints. I met Dave Butler at Salt Lake Comic Con in 2013, and then ran into him again at Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE)earlier this year. The first time I met Butler, he had been on a panel discussing themes in Lord of the Rings. Then, at LTUE he started off a panel on folklore in modern fiction by informing the other panelists that he was in the mood for a good debate...which it was.
I couldn't help but like Butler's style, and I opened his book that night, not sure what to expect, but with promises from Butler that I would enjoy it.
And Butler did not oversell. From the first pages, City of the Saints is fast paced, with a swirling and full cast of colorful action figures. Pulling a whose who of the mid-nineteenth into the ranks of his characters, Butler cleverly saves himself time in character development by leveraging the very real lives of some of the most vibrant characters of the time. From Captain Richard Burton to Edgar Alan Poe, Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) to Porter Rockwell, Butler weaves in nods to American history, western lore, and Mormon heroes, villains and misfits, including Eliza R. Snow, John D. Lee, Brigham Young, and John Moses Browning, whose guns are among the most famous, even today.
This isn't to say that Butler doesn't develop his characters. In fact, Butler does very well building a large cast, multiple protagonists, streaming the plot lines together, and building on the relationships each has with others. For any novelist, its a feat. For a first time novelist, it's most impressive.
And despite the setting in the early Mormon west, this is not a "Mormon" book. Quite the contrary. Featuring swearing Irish, mad scientists, and an almost endless supply of thuggish Pinkertons, it's a mix that defies a simple description, niche, or market, but is well-written, engaging, and, surprisingly, self-published.
Yeah, I know. Self-published. I don't get it. Well written, a romp to read, and thoroughly and carefully conceived: I guarantee I'll be reading another Butler book soon.(less)
The long and short of this is not so long or short.
First off, Robert Galbraith, if you hadn't already heard six months ago, is J.K. Rowling.
Second,...moreThe long and short of this is not so long or short.
First off, Robert Galbraith, if you hadn't already heard six months ago, is J.K. Rowling.
Second, it looks, sounds, and reads NOTHING like J.K.Rowling. There are no wizards, no witches, no muggles, no quiditch matches, no horcruxes, or any magic whatsoever.
What it is might surprise you, and you might just enjoy it.
Now, before I get much further, a caveat: because most of the books I read and recommend are largely family friendly, falling closer to rated PG than R, be forewarned that Rowling dips a bit deeper into the uncouth levels of society with characters, language, and situations that, frankly, are better kept to the pages of a novel and out of the living room of your family.
Yeah, there's a bit o' cussing here and there and, well, everywhere. And one scene I just skipped altogether. Call me a prude, but you have to be pretty dang persuasive to get me on board with a sex scene, especially when it happens on scene.
That said, I couldn't put The Cuckoo's Calling down.
Cormoran Strike is a modern day Sam Spade--albeit, more gritty, uglier, and just about as down on his luck as any PI out of central casting might be. An amputee and veteran, he's one step from total impoverishment when opportunity walks through his door, and Strike (a name that sounds destined for the pages of a thriller or mystery--think Jack Reacher, Sam Spade, or Alex Cross) commences what appears at first to be a futile, and pointless, investigation into the apparent suicide of a world famous model.
Entering a world of the rich and famous only glimpsed through the long lenses of paparazzi cameras, Strike soon finds that the facts are not what they seem.
What makes the story work, and so fascinating to me, was Rowling/Galbraith's deft touch on her characters, to build the conflicts page by page, while still dripping enough potential resolution to keep me curious. Her protagonists are difficult, but sympathetic. The plot is thick, but fast, and the pages turned easily.
In fact, this would make a great summer read for the beach.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a hard time recommending The Cuckoo's Calling to anyone because of the content. However, as proof that she can write more than for children, that she can create mystery just as ably as magic, I take my hat off to Rowling. I look forward to more from her.(less)
Over the years, I've run into Camille Paglia's essays at unexpected times, and I seem to always come away thoughtful and, occasionally, amused. Clearl...moreOver the years, I've run into Camille Paglia's essays at unexpected times, and I seem to always come away thoughtful and, occasionally, amused. Clearly coming from a perspective distant from my own, politically and culturally a member of East Coast academia, I never the less found her insights and way of putting things provocative.
When I heard that her newest book argued that George Lucas was one of greatest, if not the greatest, of modern artists, I was intrigued. First off, because I've been a Star Wars fan since I was a child making light sabers out of wrapping paper tubes. And second, because I've occasionally, like many other fans, wondered if Lucas had lost his way with the Prequels.
How does an art critic find Lucas, who has turned Star Wars into one of the most profitable franchises in history, to be an artist?
Of course, I was intrigued.
Paglia's Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars is a survey of art through history, with each entry a selection of an era. Paglia describes the piece of art, starting in the bronze era and passing through ancient Greece, the middle ages, the Renaissance, and so on. Each entry is two to three pages long and provides background and narrative, analysis and context for the work. The writing is fluid, colorful, and, like I had found in Paglia before, intriguing.
I'm not an art critic, let alone an art historian. At best, I can appreciate a few pieces of well known art. What I found in Paglia was an informative survey of art through the ages. In the introduction Paglia argues that what we are losing in our quest to get to the top of the education ladder is an appreciation of what art has brought us to where we are.
It's fascinating reading, even if there are a few pieces of art from the modern era looked--to me--more like spatters of paint than art.
I recommend it, whether you are an experienced art critic or a novice, as I am.
And Lucas? I'll let you discover on your own why Paglia thinks he is today's greatest living artist.
On the rare occasion when I watch a movie based on a book, I am not typically likely to hold the movie up to the book for comparison. They are separat...moreOn the rare occasion when I watch a movie based on a book, I am not typically likely to hold the movie up to the book for comparison. They are separate works, and I judge them separately.
Such is not always the case.
With The Color of Magic, the movie version of The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, which I found one day on a library shelf shortly after finishing The Light Fantastic, I was unable to distinguish the two in my mind. The two novels are squished into one movie, starring, among others, Sean Astin, Tim Curry, and Christopher Lee (as the voice of Death), and watching the movie was, to be completely frank, a huge mistake.
The second novel in the Discworld series is as good, if not substantially better, than The Color of Magic. Picking up exactly where that book left off, the reader finds Rincewind flailing off of the edge of the world as Twoflower, the first tourist in Discworld's history, coasts in a metal vehicle aimed at determining the gender of the Great A'Tuin. But the spell stuck in Rincewind's head will not die, and the world moves to save them.
Like he's hitting his stride after warming up with The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett is on his game, witty, incisive, sarcastic, and, always, entertaining.
And the movie totally butchers that. As funny as Pratchett is, his talent with language just doesn't translate to film, and while Christopher Lee provides a great voice for Mort, the casting fails to measure up to the depth of my imagination strung along on Pratchett's vocabulary and clever story.
No surprise here: The Light Fantastic IS fantastic, and it'll be the last time I look for a good replication of his magic in film. Pratchett's power is in language, not in film.(less)
V-Wars, edited by Jonathan Maberry, is a collection of stories set in the same world but written by a bevy of talented authors.
In the world Maberry c...moreV-Wars, edited by Jonathan Maberry, is a collection of stories set in the same world but written by a bevy of talented authors.
In the world Maberry creates in V-Wars, a prehistoric virus has been released from polar ice, awakening recessive genes in the human genome. The virus triggers changes in some humans, awakening physical changes that are varied and dramatic. Before long, vampires walk among us. Some are benign; many are not.
Maberry's collection of tales does well and more credibly what X-Men (at least the movies--I'm not familiar with the comics) tries to do: it portrays a genetic mutation that changes a portion of humanity, causing ostracization, fear, violence, and, of course, government action. I've always been dubious about what the reaction to the X-Men. After all, the powers they have seem to be magical and useful. On the other hand, the mutations in V Wars result in a change that seems to drive its mutants to, well, suck blood.
That seems a bit more against the public interest than the power to start fires, freeze objects, levitate, or any of the other number of changes that Stan Lee's X-Men undergo.
Maberry does an excellent job tying the stories together with a common story that intersperses the tales. While the majority of the stories seem to take place in and around the American northeast, especially New York City, V-Wars treats readers to a semi-global perspective, with stories from the American southern border with Mexico, in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, and one that crisscrosses the globe, starting in Antarctica, jetting off to Romania, and stopping through France, too. Some times we read from the vampire's perspective; other times, from the humans. Maberry breaks up the stories, too, giving the collection something of novel-like feeling.
As interesting as the collection is, the stories are not all created equal, and it's part of the reason I had a hard time settling on just three stars. I wanted badly to give the book four stars--but several of the stories disappointed, even bored me.
They were few, however, and generally the stories were creative and enjoyable, if occasionally not for the faint of heart. Here are a few of my favorites:
"Stalking Anna Lei" by James A. Moore brings together legends of vampires from East Asia, as John Lei searches for his sister while navigating the dangerous world of Asian gangs amid reports of a monstrous creature that seems to be haunting his every step. Told from John's perspective, Moore has a great voice that makes his story one of the most enjoyable, and his plotting makes the final twist satisfying and unexpected.
"Vulpes" by Gregory Frost begins in Antarctica and trails Ruksana back to her home in Romania. Beware, though: when the change comes to her, the results are anything but vampiric.
Yvonne Navarro's "Epiphany" asks what happens when society's most weak go through the vampiric change, trading vulnerabilities for superhuman power. Red Moon is the orphaned daughter of Native Americans, raped, pregnant, and infected by the virus. Beset by changes she cannot explain, she finds herself on the edge of motherhood in a world that threatens to destroy her for the changes that have come over her.
V-Wars deserves a second installment. It is, in many ways, only the opening chapter in the new world that emerges as vampire and human eye each other and wonder if they will live together or in conflict. (less)
The End of Big by Nicco MeleIf Thomas Friedman's thesis in his 2005 The World Is Flat is that globalization has led to a flatter playing field, then T...moreThe End of Big by Nicco MeleIf Thomas Friedman's thesis in his 2005 The World Is Flat is that globalization has led to a flatter playing field, then The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath tells author Nicco Mele's vision that the ultimate tool of that equalization is the internet.
In truth, it's not a hard argument to make.
An young tech geek when the Howard Dean for President campaign hired him to help with their online fundraising, Mele learned first hand how the internet could allow the little guy to compete with establishment forces, or what he calls the "big" of politics. Using broad strokes, as he calls it in the first chapter, Mele describes a world where, increasingly, the little guy can, by virtue of the internet, take on what is big, whether it be in politics, business, the news media, entertainment, education, government.
Its a fascinating picture. Whether he is citing use of online social media networks in the Arab spring or the rise (and fall) of illicit arms and drugs trade through the Silk Road, touting local communities outsourcing of government functions to minimize costs or sharing anecdotes about online retailers cutting out the middle man and creating their own business, or explaining the rise of bloggers and new media to compete with and disrupt traditional print and broadcast news companies, Mele provides a broad and interesting view of the the world that the internet has made possible.
As interesting as that picture is, however, it does lead to one shortcoming of the book, which, to be clear, Mele owns and anticipates early on. Because he paints in broad strokes, covering so many large areas in general and with anecdotes rather than hard data, the book is perhaps more appropriate to the internet novice than the seasoned or even semi-experienced who have used the internet for more than a simple Google search or Facebook update. It's a great entry overview, but lacks any specifics or guidance for how to reach the kind of success he trumpets.
If you're new to the internet or perhaps looking to understand an area outside of your current usage, The End of Big is perhaps an interesting, and quick, overview that is worth a read. As a user's guide, however, it is perhaps more useful as tales of successes than a course in attaining the skills to join the brave new world. (less)
Every once in a while, I get a book in the mail that is unique from anything else I've ever read. As a collection of short stories, Stella Pieride's F...moreEvery once in a while, I get a book in the mail that is unique from anything else I've ever read. As a collection of short stories, Stella Pieride's Feeding the Doves has given me a new definition of what short means, not to mention how quickly a story can be told.
Few stories are longer than a page, and none are longer than five pages. Each feels like an intimate glimpse someones life, a brief moment in time. And given that each is so quick, so fast, and yet so personal, it's saying something that Pieride is able to levy language to create this impact in such sort space. Interspersed in some of the stories are haiku, providing a poetic flare that sets of the prose.
One of my favorite stories from Feeding the Doves was The Accident about a writer who loses control of his own writing, watching from an almost voyeuristic vantage point as the characters go their own path in spite of his best efforts. He walks away, then comes back, only to watch his computer crash, taking control of the story forever from his hands.
In another, A Quiet Miracle, we watch the moment of parenthood, coming unexpected and beautifully.
At the other end of life, Missed Many Boats, an entire story feels crafted around one line, all tightened around one page: "But, no one misses the boat to Hades." It is the underworld where the dead dwell in Greek mythology, and references to Greece and its geography and culture, ancient and modern, pepper Pieride's stories. It's a wonderful setting for her flash fiction, and I found her writing a refreshing and unique collection. (less)
I’ll admit it: I picked up Unnatural Creatures from the bookstore shelf because it carried Neil Gaiman‘s name on the front. A collection of short stor...moreI’ll admit it: I picked up Unnatural Creatures from the bookstore shelf because it carried Neil Gaiman‘s name on the front. A collection of short stories focused on fantastical creatures “that exist only in our minds,” each is a golden nugget by writers both classic and new, every one an enjoyable and creative read.
Which is why I was more than a little disappointed to put Unnatural Creatures down after the last story. Introduced by a short paragraph by Gaiman, each tale was a refreshing and creative new creature, each defying or belying any fairy tale paradigm.
In addition to more traditional creatures like the griffin and phoenix, there are the cartographer wasps and anarchist bees, time travelers inadvertently stealing away history’s fantastical creatures, multidimensional dots, and a werewolf against Nazi spies. Some are fun, others dark, and nearly all have a twist that leaves a smile.
In “The Compleat Werewolf” by Anthony Boucher we find Professor Wolfe Wolf, who is mocked behind his back by his associates and students as “woof woof.” It is California in the 1940s, though, and Nazis are more a danger to America than werewolves.
In “Prismatica,” Samuel R. Delany writes an homage to James Thurber with the tale of the poor by clever Amos, who will journey to the deepest swamp, to meet the North Wind, and to a land of many colors in search of his fortune.
The incomparable Larry Niven is here, as well, with a story of a time traveler from a time when the horse is extinct and the General Secretary wants one for his birthday. However, information about what exactly a horse looks like is sparse, almost as sparse as information about the middle ages. The result is a humorous and grin inducing trip to the middle ages.
The sixteen tales collected are as creative as the creatures they feature, and with them Gaiman has produced a book as interesting and complete as any that he might have written himself.(less)
Darth Vader and Son is a delightful and clever children’s comic book that is well conceived and worthwhile entertainment for children and adults alike...moreDarth Vader and Son is a delightful and clever children’s comic book that is well conceived and worthwhile entertainment for children and adults alike.
Set up as a series of illustrated tableaus from the life of a Darth Vader who, instead of learning only mid-way through Empire Strikes Back that Luke Skywalker is his son, is the single father of a four-year old Luke (featuring a cameo from the other Skywalker twin, Leia–oops! Spoiler alert! Luke and Leia are siblings!), the book opens with a title page that spoofs the flowing titles and prologue that we’ve come to know as the standard opening of George Lucas’ blockbuster Star Wars films.
Each page is a colorfully drawn picture, scenes that every Star Wars fan will recognize. Brown’s art is simple, focusing on depicting the setting with only minor changes from the original. Rather, his wry drawings are just enough to both satirize and shed a humorous light on otherwise serious and pivotal scenes. The conversation between Darth Vader and the Emperor by holographic transmission is interrupted by a nattering Luke. In another, Luke trick or treats in the costume of a Storm Trooper while Mon Mothma asks “Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?”
The Prequel Trilogy doesn’t escape Brown’s jabs either, especially Jar Jar Binks. “That’s not the toy you’re looking for,” says a hand waving Vader. “Yes, it is,” replies young Luke, proving he is not among the weak-minded. It’s a sly commentary on the generational split in opinions about the first and second Star Wars trilogies.
While each scene pokes fun at Star Wars, it is without malice or mockery. Rather, it is tongue-in-cheek and by the hand of someone who clearly loves Star Wars. Brown knows that Han shot first, that children keep adults grounded and from taking ourselves too seriously, and recognizes that all the things we older Star Wars fans hate are the same things that kids love, from Ewoks to JarJar Binks.
As I flipped the pages, I chuckled, smiled, and laughed. Then my five-year old saw the book sitting on my bed stand, and she laughed, too. She wouldn’t put the book down after I finished it, and it isn’t for lack of other books to read. After she fell asleep, I found the book under her arm, and this afternoon she informed me that it would be accompanying her to school for ‘show and tell’ tomorrow.
If it can make my daughter laugh as much as it does me, it will be a great addition to our shelves.
Article first published as Graphic Novel Review: ‘Darth Vader and Son’ by Jeffrey Brown on Blogcritics.org.(less)
Sitting on my shelf for well over half a decade, thick black and heavy, there was something oppressive about the cover that kept me away. Nearly ten y...moreSitting on my shelf for well over half a decade, thick black and heavy, there was something oppressive about the cover that kept me away. Nearly ten years after publication, I finally cracked it, and I can't figure out why I waited so long.
Of course, everything looks different in retrospect, and I wish that I hadn't waited quite so long to enjoy the masterpiece that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
Set in an alternate England during the Napoleonic wars where magic is, or was, real, but is now passing into academia and myth, a relic of a golden age now passed. The mysterious, private and eccentric Gilbert Norrell jealously guards his rare and unique volumes of magic, secretly plotting to bring it back to England. Jonathan Strange becomes his apprentice and then, because the government finds him easier to get along with than Norrell, goes to the continent to assist English troops in the fight against Napoleon. Meanwhile, Norrell has unwittingly awakened fairy powers in a deal with, if not the devil, what very much seems like it, sending his future, and Strange's, into an unpredictable path of rediscovery of the magic that the world has forgotten.
Divided into three volumes, Susanna Clarke's tome takes on a fascinating form. Her story is full of stories within stories. Chapters would begin with stories, and characters would tell each other stories, and stories would be embedded in footnotes to explain obscure references that the characters were making within the story...
Ranging from the bizarre to the mundane to the horrifying, the stories build up an alternate set of mythological tales that add a depth and reality to Clarke's alternate England. By the end of the novel, that England felt as real as the real England, and the dry, scholarly way that she tells some of the stories, recorded as they are in historical records of academics, only lends to the feeling of authenticity.
It doesn't hurt that Clarke's characters are alive, vibrant, and real. Few, if any, are without their flaws, and some, including among the title characters, are downright distasteful at times. I've occasionally heard writers pass along the advice to "kill your lovelies," the gist being to kill your characters, especially those that your reader has grown attached to. One of my favorite examples, if not occurring in literature itself, is during the denouement of the movie Serenity (SPOILER ALERT) as the crew of the ship lands after a peril strewn flight and pilot Wash is unexpectedly killed by the Reavers. A favorite among the crew, Wash's death is a moment poignant and painful and has the effect of raising the stakes as the remaining crew must rush from Wash's side so his death is not in vain.
It's a lesson Clarke knows well. She has no problem putting her lovelies through the ringer, if stopping short of actually killing them, and no one passes through her plotting unscathed by the touch of magic. Further, each is a work of art, deftly developed and crafted to a three dimensional figure that changes over the course of the novel. If Clarke's clever story telling doesn't pull you in until the final twist, her characters will, vesting you with an interest in their future that keeps you reading until the last page.
It would make a great mini-series, and apparently the BBC agrees. Filming started at the end of 2013.
Although 2014 is the tenth anniversary of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the story maintains a timeless quality that I hope will keep it on shelves for years to come. If you haven't read it yet, pick up a copy and enjoy the strange and unique tale that Clarke has created.
With a page count a bit lower than Civilization, The Great Degeneration is based on his 2012 "Reith Lectures" on the BBC and walks through four institutions that Ferguson sees as crucial to the prosperity of the modern state. Faced with growing symptoms of decline, such as slowing growth, crushing debts, increasing inequality, aging populations, antisocial behavior, Ferguson believes that our institutional degeneration may be the major cause.
Ferguson opens by first addressing other arguments about why wealthy countries have declined. China and India's impressive economic growth, in contrast to relative stagnation in western democracies, is not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the West, but is also a result of actual decline in real terms in western countries of certain institutions, especially in the decline of political, economic, legal and social institutions.
The west's success, relative to "the rest," over the last few centuries has been in large part due to four institutions: democracy, capitalism, the rule of law, and civil society.
Democracy has deteriorated not so much due to access, but rather due to the breakdown of the social contract between generations, says Ferguson. For this, he cites the expensive benefits that older generations have voted themselves to be left to the next generation to pay for, noting that Edmund Burke, in his Reflections On The Revolution In France saw the generations as an important part of the social contract. By taking on astronomical amounts of debt, we have put future generations on the hook for our expensive lifestyles.
When it comes to capitalism, Ferguson is not so much anti-regulation as he is anti-bad regulation. There is not such thing as a market without some kind of regulation, he says, but the regulation must makes sense and malefactors must be made to pay. On the contrary, in the recent recession, Wall Street came out ahead, despite risky behavior and dangerous bets, while average Americans bailed them out with giant debt producing stimulus packages.
Where once the rule of law protected contracts and property rights, tort law has slowed down the legal system, raised the costs of doing business, increased the costs of products, and failed to produce a corresponding benefit, stifling innovation and creativity.
It is when Ferguson reaches civil society that I am most intrigued. He quotes from both Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam and Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray, both landmark works on the dramatic decrease in voluntary associations over the last century. Where as at one point both wealthy and poor attended the same churches, participated in the same organizations (think Lions Club or Rotary or even Boy Scouts), and lived in the same neighborhoods, recent decades have seen lower and lower membership and participation in these voluntary associations that have brought people together for a common purpose. Instead, government has replaced these voluntary associations in many cases as the source of resort and not often with improved results. We may have more "Friends" on Facebook, but the relationships there are no more substantial than the effort to click "Like." The result is less civic-mindedness and less civic-participation.
And no, showing up to vote does not reflect civic participation. Voter turnout is merely a symptom of increased, or decreased, civic engagement.
Since I listened to the book over the course of several days commute and while doing a bit of home improvement, I found the shorter analysis and references to other works useful and was unsurprised to hear, as Ferguson closed up the book, that it was based on a series of lectures. While The Great Degeneration is a fascinating, if bite-sized, look at the problems assailing western civilization, it proceeds along lines that are more prescriptive than proscriptive. As a gateway, however, it is a starting point, and on that score, I recommend it as a place to begin your examination of the future of our democracy. (less)
Finding an interesting, new author is a fantastic experience, like discovering a new favorite restaurant or traveling to a place you’ve never been bef...moreFinding an interesting, new author is a fantastic experience, like discovering a new favorite restaurant or traveling to a place you’ve never been before. It is full of exploration, of discovery, and the refreshing feel of something new and fresh.
Imagine, then, what it’s like to find one book with 12 interesting new authors, all at once. It’s exactly what you get with Writers of the Future Volume 29. As a collection of the fiction, it’s a cornucopia of clever tales and excellent writing, and you won’t even need to buy 12 different books to enjoy each author.
Perhaps only slightly hyperbolically, the cover says that the stories “show us who we are, what we may become, and how far we can go.” Indeed, the stories may be more imaginative than predictive, but it does nothing to diminish their ability to convey the reader away from the ordinary and to lands and worlds unbounded by time or physics. And, eschewing the cliches even as it embraces them, the stories prove that science fiction and its close cousin fantasy are just as much about people and relationships as spaceships and magic.
The Writers of the Future contest is unique among collections of short stories. Where others focus on a topic, share a single author, or even share the same imaginary world, the commonality between tales in Writers of the Future Volume 29 is in their selection by a panel of judges comprised of the who’s who of science fiction and fantasy authors and headed by Dave Wolverton. Authors submit their work to the panel and their submissions are reviewed blind.
In other words, the only commonality is the genre and the high level of writing. Only the best selections win, and it shows. Each tale is carefully crafted, from “cut to the chase” openings that thrust the reader right in the middle of the action, to heart breaking conclusions that both satisfy and leave you wanting more. In addition to the tales, the contest features art from the parallel contest for art, as well as essays on writing by L.Ron Hubbard, Dave Wolverton, and others.
One of my favorite s was “Planetary Scouts” by Stephen Sottong. In the far future, he writes, technology has taken humanity to the stars, but only to confront the harsh reality that many of the planets we might colonize are already occupied, often by forms of life not welcoming to our exploration.
Another exciting tale by Brian Trent is “Hero,” a fast paced story about a young man who must face his nemesis not once, but twice, in a revolution that sweeps the peaks of Mars.
“Dreameater” by Andrea Stewart is a clever and horrifying story about a girl coming to grip with the terrible legacy that may become her future.
And there are more. Writers of the Future Volume 29 is replete with great writing and good stories. If you want a bead on tomorrows great writers, this is the place to start reading.
Review first published as "Book Review: ‘Writers of the Future Volume 29′ edited by Dave Wolverton" on Blogcritics.org.(less)
Steelheart, first in the Reckoners series, may have the broadest appeal of Brandon Sanderson's growing variety of imaginary worlds. At a time when Mar...moreSteelheart, first in the Reckoners series, may have the broadest appeal of Brandon Sanderson's growing variety of imaginary worlds. At a time when Marvel and DC turnout multiple blockbusters at the movie theater each year--think The Avengers, Iron Man, the Dark Knight, and Man of Steel--interest in superheroes is at an all time high and Sanderson's look at the dark potential of superpowered humans is a timely and relevant addition to the genre. For a guy who kicked of his career with epic fantasy, it also shows the breadth of his imagination and flexibility.
Rather than swords and sorcery, Sanderson's premise is flight and telekinesis, invisibility and fire. What if the supernatural powers of Superman, the Flash, and Captain America didn't just make them more than human, but also corrupted them, too?
For a genre that has always been willing to show the light and the dark sides of human nature, compounded exponentially by the bright and dark natures of the heroes and villains holding those powers, it's not an entirely new look, but it does take a new spin. Any reader of comic books knows that almost every superhero is just as likely to take a turn to the dark side, but only in Sanderson's world does that actual endowment of superpowers nearly guarantee that the turn will happen. Power corrupts, Sanderson says, quoting Lord Acton, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sanderson's super-powered humans--or Epics--are power hungry and evil, killing and taking at whim.
How does humanity survive?
Told from the perspective of David, a normal human who at the outset of the story accidentally witnesses one of the nascent superheroes, Steelheart--of whom his description of superpowers it eerily similar to the better known "Man of Steel," Superman--Steelheart is about the quest to find a way to defeat the villainous super-powered humans that have carved out fiefdoms for themselves across America (and presumably the rest of the world). David is obsessed with understanding each Epic, charting their powers, their weaknesses, and more as he plots his revenge against Steelheart for the death of his father.
Conceived in 2007 when Sanderson was still a newly published author, Steelheart may be recognition by his publisher that he has a platform and an audience that will buy Sanderson's books, almost no matter what he writes. This isn't to say that Steelheart is not good, or that it would not have been published otherwise, but it is a step outside of Brandon's brand of epic fantasy, a bit more young adult than Elantris, Warbreaker, or the Mistborn series, and far more comic book than anything else Sanderson has yet produced.
In that sense, I see in Steelheart the most potential of any of Sanderson's own works (I'm not including the Wheel of Time since I consider that to be Robert Jordan's creative genius to which Sanderson added his considerable writing ability). The story, set in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian Chicago (Newcago, Sanderson's renames it), featuring day-after-tomorrow weapons and technology, capped supervillains, and a cast of colorfully written characters, would translate well into film or television. Videogames could be easy to add to the brand, as well.
All good ideas aside, though, I wish Sanderson had spent just a little more time with the novel. The plot feels rushed and the relationships only superficially developed. When David meets Megan, about the most we learn about his attraction to her is about how she looks in a short, red dress and her ability to shoot a gun. I'm no stranger to the attraction of a woman in a short skirt (cue up Cake's Short Skirt, Long Jacket please), but the depth of the relationship and David's motives never really deepen much more. I suspect that this is in large part because Sanderson is writing for a young adult audience, but age has never been a reason to short-thrift the young. Gary D. Schmidt's Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now prove that you don't need to be superficial or shallow, nor do you have to treat them like they can't understand human nature. Granted, we're reading about superheroes here, and maybe my expectations are too high, but the driving force of the conflict is David's relationships, and Sanderson's handling feels rushed.
That said, Sanderson executes the premise almost flawlessly. His Epics are epic villains, his plotting is careful, and the final twist is a satisfying moment for the triumph of good--real good, not just the 'good guy'--over evil. Borrow or buy, Steelheart is a welcome addition to the fast growing Sanderson collection, one that you should read soon. (less)
How does one rate a book published thirty years ago, by an author considered among the greats of our day, and that commences one of the most read and...moreHow does one rate a book published thirty years ago, by an author considered among the greats of our day, and that commences one of the most read and popular series in recent times?
The Color of Magic introduces us to Discworld, a series that has grown to include forty novels. Given that I didn't discover Terry Pratchett or Discworld until the 2004 Going Postal, which was number 33 in the series, it might be asked how I jumped in, as well as whether the series ends. Fortunately, each novel stands alone, and no new reader needs to have read previous books in order to understand what's going on in this one.
Since Going Postal, I've since read a couple of other Discworld novels, but I've never read the early ones. That changed when, a couple of months back, my good neighbor and friend Mike mentioned that he was looking for a good home for his substantial collection of Pratchett novels, including nearly all of the Discworld novels. I about wet my pants with excitement when I heard and couldn't wait to start reading.
The Color of Magic lays out the elements of Discworld that have since become familiar to millions (I once read that Pratchett's books had the distinction of being those most often stolen from booksellers in the British Isles): Discworld is flat. As is explained in another of the Discworld novels, when introducing the character Death:
"This is the Death whose particular sphere of operations is, well, not a sphere at all, but the Discworld, which is flat and rides on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of the enormous star turtle Great A’Tuin, and which is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space.
"Scientists have calculated that the chance of anything so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one. But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten."
If that doesn't give you enough of a taste to tell that Discworld is not only part fantasy but also partly tongue-in-cheek satire, then one need only get to know the heroes of the quest to realize how little Pratchett takes his fictional world seriously (unless you consider being serious about writing a rollicking good story, which Pratchett is). Rincewind is the wizard who lacks any real wizarding skills, except perhaps that he's very good at dodging death (both in the abstract and the concrete in the person of Death). Along for the ride, if as the ostensible McGuffin, is Twoflower, a tourist from a far of empire who is oblivious to danger, and The Luggage, a semi-sentient and energetic piece of luggage made from sapient pearwood, and Cohen the Barbarian.
Each is a riff or commentary, delightfully and humorously drawn to entertaining effect, and it's not hard to hear echoes of Mark Twain and Douglas Adams in Pratchett's writing, though, to be honest, Pratchett is a flavor all his own. Here are a few lines that Pratchett slips in, each full of commentary and satire, and yet humorous all on their own:
"The Watch were always careful not to intervene too soon in any brawl where the odds were not heavily stacked in their favour. The job carried a pension, and attracted a cautious, thoughtful kind of man."
"Picturesque meant - he decided after careful observation of the scenery that inspired Twoflower to use the word - that the landscape was horribly precipitous. Quaint, when used to describe the occasional village through which they passed, meant fever-ridden and tumbledown. Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the Discworld. Tourist, Rincewind had decided, meant 'idiot'."
"What heroes like best is themselves."
"He wondered what kind of life it would be, having to keep swimming all the time to stay exactly in the same place. Pretty similar to his own, he decided."
"Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying."
"I've seen excitement, and I've seen boredom. And boredom was best."
And Pratchett's The Color of Magic is anything but "boredom." If you've never had the opportunity to enjoy a Discworld novel, The Color of Magic is a fantastic place to begin.
(And many thanks, Mike, for gifting me the wonderful lands of Discworld.)(less)
Buy it, put it by your bed, or desk, or chair, or couch, or where ever you like to read, and then read it.
But don't read it straight through. Stop at the end of each story, set your head back on your pillow/headrest/cushion/ground and enjoy the warm sense of wonder that Rejiggering the Thingamajig and Other Stories will bring as it alights on your imagination, bringing a smile to your face and an eagerness to turn the page and find what is awaiting in the next story.
Eric James Stone is revelation, his writing full of the fantastic, wonderful, and imaginative world that marks what science fiction ought to be. Along with a delightful and surprising sense of humor, a cleverness for unexpected plot twists, and a taste for the quirks of human nature, Stone's collection is an utterly enjoyable romp through a mind that is ever interested in the world we live in and the worlds we might create.
In short, it is wonderful writing.
In the title story, Rejiggering the Thingamajig, our unlikely hero is a genetically modified tyrannosaurus rex, stranded from her unborn across the vast reach of space and thrust into the role of galactic savior.
Another, the Six Billion Dollar Colon, echoes both Stone's experience working for members of Congress and predicts the drama of vast, sweeping healthcare legislation...with a twist.
The short, one page Buy You a Mockingbird is poignant as it is parsimonious, showing a talent for language and story-telling in only an incredibly short space. Just a bit longer, but every bit as humorous as Buy You a Mockingbird is sad, Accounting for Dragons will leave anyone who has ever filed their own taxes smiling.
In a twist, The Robot Sorcerer mashes science fiction and fantasy, suggesting that the lines between the genres need not be as thick as we treat them. Or maybe they are already thin?
And there are more, many more. I found Stone's stories brilliant and refreshing. Unique, also, is Stone's willingness to address religion, including his own--he is Latter-day Saint--without knocking it, but as a rational examination of how people and faith might be affected by science and fantasy. Tabloid Reporter to the Stars takes man across the galaxy and asks: what if we were alien life to another planet, and what if we found out we were not the first of our kind to arrive? Whose religion would be proven or destroyed? The Ashes of His Fathers provides the opportunity for an unfaithful descendant of saints to find redemption, drawing inspiration from Thomas Babington Macaulay's "Horatius." Loophole is about a young woman taking her new husband, a Mormon, home to meet her "demonic" family. And That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made examines Mormon missionary zeal among extraterrestrial sun dwellers with some unexpected results.
In short, Stone's imagination seems to know no bounds, and his writing proves to be a powerful tool to tell his stories. I bumped into him at Salt Lake Comic Con where he was sitting on panel about the Writers of the Future contest, which he has won, alongside David Farland and Brad R. Torgersen, two other brilliant writers. He was billed, by Torgersen, as one of the best short story writers working, and, IMHO, he fits the ticket well.
So what are you waiting for? Buy it already!(less)
Let's be completely honest: we all pick up books for various reasons. A recommendation from a trusted friend. It was up front i...moreLife is just too short.
Let's be completely honest: we all pick up books for various reasons. A recommendation from a trusted friend. It was up front in the airport bookshop. Written by a favorite author. A great cover.
I picked up Psychoshop because it was written by Alfred Bester. I was at Powell's in Portland, and it seemed like a good find. A classic author, a previously unread title, and a giant bookstore.
A win, right?
Perhaps for some. For me, time is too precious and life is too short.
Psychoshop was left unfinished by Bester on his death and was finished by Roger Zelazny, another classic science fiction writer. Comparing the work to a jazz duet, Greg Bear says in an introduction that the book is "Brisk, fast, memorable, a rare improvisational duet from two of our best[,]" but to be honest, I just couldn't get through it. As creative as it is, and it is, I just found it schizophrenic and undefined, a story looking for a conflict to be resolved. (less)
Finding Lights in the Deep was one of those happy accidents that leads to lost sleep and happy day dreams.
Nominee for the Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell a...moreFinding Lights in the Deep was one of those happy accidents that leads to lost sleep and happy day dreams.
Nominee for the Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell awards and winner of the 2010 Writers of the Future award, Brad R. Torgersen is one of the newest authors to join the ranks of published science fiction, and when he makes it big, I want the record to reflect that I was among the first to tout his writing, at least in the fan world. I first met him after a writers’ panel on Salt Lake Comic Con’s first day. Impressed, I brought home a copy of his just recently published Lights in the Deep. His writing was absorbing, and I found myself transported by his fantastic vision of space exploration, war with aliens, and survival on the ocean’s bottom.
In many ways, Torgersen’s is the kind of writing is exactly the reason I loved reading science fiction by greats like Robert Heinlein and Larry Niven when I was growing up. Their science fiction paints a view of humanity that was hopeful and optimistic, even while acknowledging our shortcomings and weaknesses. More, the settings for his stories find inspiration in a time when the Apollo missions to the moon were still the height of the human technological endeavour, but without feeling in anyway anachronistic. Rather, his view is hopeful, putting human potential for good back at the center of science fiction.
On a personal note, Torgersen is a good and generous person, and that alone should inspire you to go buy Lights in the Deep (and today!) to help him get the notice he needs. Not long after I listened in on a panel he sat on, I hunted him down on the convention floor where he was sharing a booth with the legendary Kevin Anderson (and that Anderson would let share a booth should say worlds about Brad). Not only was he willing to talk about his experience becoming a published writer, but he was encouraging and optimistic about my own tentative admission of writing ambition.
Lights in the Deep will take you to the moon (several times), past the orbits of the planets, and far out into the universe, as well as back to Earth and the depths of the ocean. It’s a wonderful read, and I can’t wait to pick up Torgersen’s first novel (not counting the collaboration he’s doing with Larry Niven later this year), The Chaplain’s War when Baen releases it next October. (less)
Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management, and its author Howard Tayler, is unlike anything I've ever read before.
Wait--hold that thought. It's not comp...moreSchlock Mercenary: Under New Management, and its author Howard Tayler, is unlike anything I've ever read before.
Wait--hold that thought. It's not completely true. Yes, it's unique, a veritable cornucopia of creative energy and humor, entertaining and--dare I say?--educational at the same time.
But it is also reminiscent, in so many happy ways, of the late Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The setting is space, the humor is satirical, and the plot twists are absurd and unexpected. And yet, like Adams, Tayler makes ample use of big numbers and real science to make his comic more than fluff.
Indeed, if Adams were alive, I think he'd have little problem plugging Arthur Dent into one of Tayler's panels, alongside Ford, Zaphod, Trillian, and all the others...
But enough about Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide. This is about Schlock Mercenary.
Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management is the first print collection of Tayler's webcomic Schlock Mercenary. The story of a semi-disciplined band of mercenaries but ostensibly about Sergeant Schlock, who really just wants to "hurt people and break things" and will warm up his plasma cannon at any excuses, this installment includes extensive annotations (which left me wondering if Tayler was tricking me into learning something about science, space, physics...yeah, seriously. I was laughing and learning about science at the same time) and an origin story about Schlock (and don't ask me exactly what Schlock is. Apparently, he's all but indestructible, not to mention as malleable as Gumby).
I've long listened to Tayler on the Writing Excuses podcast ("It's all about eyebrows," says Tayler) that he does with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Mary Robinette Kowal (and for which they won a Hugo this year...a Hugo!), and I felt lucky when was able to track him down at the Salt Lake Comic Con. He's about as cool as anyone I met there and was glad to pose (and I do mean pose--the guy just doesn't take himself serious, which is refreshing) for a photo.
I'm not much of a comics guy, but I'll keep reading Schlock Mercenary. The story telling is solid, the jokes are clean and clever, and the creativity is refreshing. It's enough to make a fan out of me.(less)
Of all of them, though, none was more satisfying, fulfilling and memorable than Gary Schmidt's follow-up to The Wednesday Wars. Picking up right after the end of the adventures of Holling Hoodhood in The Wednesday Wars, Okay For Now takes the perspective of Doug Swieteck, Hoodhood's friend and little brother to Hoodhood's bully. When a job change takes them to "stupid Marysville," Doug finds himself an unlikely friend in the Hermione-like Lil Spicer, daughter of the local deli owner. Over the course of his eight-grade year, Doug will overcome prejudices, his own shortcomings, make new friends and mentors, and learn that his destiny is in his own hands.
That all sounds so stereotypical and mundane, like what could be written on the back of almost any young adult novel. Believe me, then, when I say that there's nothing stereotypical or mundane about Doug's story. As he would say, "I'm not lying." Schmidt has a talent for making scenes equally humorous and tragic, and he cleverly and subtly uses language to show and tell who and what is on the up and up with Doug and what is not.
"You know how that feels?" is a common phrase, something of a stage aside when Doug wants to accentuate his response to the situation, whether negative or positive. I found it clever that Doug would change then names of things subtly and without comment as their standing would change. For example, Christopher, Doug's brother and the bully from The Wednesday Wars begins the book as "my brother," but after an act of redemption becomes Christopher. Other labels that Doug uses with derision early in the book change, in connotation, as events unfold. In addition, Schmidt uses the imagery of art and Audubon's collection of bird paintings to bring out and describe Doug's experiences and growth.
Another reason I loved--yes, I loved it--Okay For Now is for its unique and deep demonstration of the bonds between males, the things that strengthen them, as well as the things that weaken them. Looking at both of the books, it's not hard to wonder if Schmidt has a soft spot in his heart for mothers and high standards for fathers, standards that he doesn't always think men meet. Though the novels are certainly full of traditional families with loving and honorable fathers--the book takes place in the late 1960s, so the traditional family is certainly still at the forefront in society--both the Hoodhood and Swieteck families are headed by less than satisfactory fathers at the outset, causing a major source of conflict for both Doug and Holling.
Not only is his relationship with his father, and how his father's relationship with his mother, a major focus of the story, but so are the relationships between Doug and his brothers, including Christopher who I mentioned earlier, and Lucas who comes home from Vietnam. Also important to Doug's progress are relationships he develops with various other adults in the community, including teachers, librarians, and one eccentric playwright.
Okay for Now is a beautiful story about a boy, and it's a story that will resonate with anyone, whether they remember what it was like to be 15 or not. With my own eight grade year now nearly two decades in the rear view mirror, reading Okay for Now took me back, reminding me of the growth and awkwardness of that tumultuous year and inspiring me to be more careful in my relationships.
The year's not over yet, but Okay for Now will probably go down as the best book I will read this year, if not in the last several years. And I'm not lying. It's terrific, and I hope you will read it. (less)
Reading Variant felt like I had jumped into a toboggan on a tall, snow covered hill, pushed off, and sped down it at breakneck speed, dodging trees an...moreReading Variant felt like I had jumped into a toboggan on a tall, snow covered hill, pushed off, and sped down it at breakneck speed, dodging trees and bushes. Only when I slammed into a rock under the snow at the bottom of the hill was I able to look back and see everything that I had flown through on my haphazard journey.
In other words, Variant is quite a fast ride.
Benson Fisher is a foster child who thinks he's found a way out of the system. Not unlike Bron from David Farland's Nightingale, he's above average, enjoys learning, and has proved himself to be enough of an achiever to obtain a scholarship to an elite private school in the backwoods of New Mexico.
When he is unceremoniously dropped off at the school, it's immediately clear that something isn't right. Fisher soon realizes that there are no teachers and that breaking the rules could mean death. And that's all on day one.
Robison Wells moves the story at a breakneck pace, and it's hard to fault him for creating a thrilling story that pulls the reader in and speeds them along. It's a page turner that's well suited to young adults and teens. Written in the first person, it has an urgency that will keep teens satisfied and reaching for the sequel, Feedback.
And yet, as exciting as the Variant plot is, sometimes it felt like the pace got in the way of the character development. While we get to know Fisher more than most (after all, it is his perspective we're reading from), the majority of the cast seems to be stuck in time. Wells does a good job of filling in details sufficient to give them color and personality, but it's hard to see them as three dimensional.
Perhaps this fits, though. Variant is owes as much to thrillers as it does to the Twilight Zone, though, and readers might not require the level of depth that other young adult novels might provide. After all, Fisher is more concerned with staying alive and escaping than he is with all that a teenager might deal with growing up, especially one who has spent much of his life in foster care.
That's biggest rub for me. I'm not one generally inclined to an overabundance of feelings, emotions or drama--I've never been able to stomach a Stephenie Meyer novel, for instance--but I do want the protagonist to be credible and sympathetic. It's hard not to be sympathetic with Fisher who comes across as a typical teenager who enjoys the same movies and activities that any teen would enjoy. However, it's also hard to believe that a life lived in foster care would not affect him more than it appears to have. (And how does a foster kid from Pennsylvania get to New Mexico? There's no way the state of Pennsylvania would have let a ward of the state leave the state by himself).
It's a good read, though, and I won't complain too much. Wells kept me turning pages, and I suspect this would make a great movie. Pick it up, and enjoy an evening lost turning pages.(less)
If you've enjoyed Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International series, then you'll love Hard Magic, the first of his series set in an alternative hist...moreIf you've enjoyed Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International series, then you'll love Hard Magic, the first of his series set in an alternative history in 1930s America, where for just over seventy years (since the 1860s) magic has begun to manifest in random people around the world. Some become stronger, others can walk through walls, and still others can heal, curse, see the future, teleport, control the weather, raise demons, or create zombies.
That's right. You didn't think that Correia would write a book and not include zombies and other ghoulish monsters, did you? And, true to form, Correia gives his heroes plenty of armaments because a fair fight is only fair when the good guys are armed to the teeth.
So we've got monsters, magic, guns, and alternate history...did I mention that there are aliens, too?
If it sounds like Correia is blending too many genres, trust me: it works, and it's every bit as enjoyable as the rest of Correia's novels. Not only does Correia make it fun, weaving a creative new universe where almost anything goes, he brings his usual care to create characters that are both sympathetic and conflicted, diverse and credible. There's something for everyone, from the tough guy who is soft inside to the fem fatal with a heart of gold, from the wizened and ancient mentor to the young, naive, and innocent prodigy on a mission of vengeance. There are pirates, gangsters, war heroes and villains, and Correia tells it with an almost effortless style.
Truth be told, Hard Magic kept me up burning the mid-night oil several days in row, and it was worth the lost sleep.
I ran into Correia on the floor of the Salt Lake Comic Con last week. Introduced by a mutual friend of ours, I was lucky enough to get a picture with him, but to look at the picture, you'd think he was the one who thought he was lucky. He's wearing this smile that says "I can't believe they pay me to do this." It's the smile of a man having the time of his life.
And, if you talk with him long enough, he'll take the opportunity to note that he would have the number one audio book in the country right now, but for J.K. Rowling. Her revelation that Robert Galbraith was her pen name behind the critically acclaimed Cuckoo Calling catapulted her just over Correia ("Let's start a rumor that 'Larry Correia' is a pen name for J.K. Rowling," he said at one panel during the Salt Lake Comic Con). He says it with mock bitterness, and though other, less successful panelists occasionally rolled their eyes at him, he clearly enjoys the success that he's enjoyed, and perhaps, as his smile seems to betray, he really can't believe that he gets to write novels featuring his monsters, magic, and munitions. (less)
Exciting, clever, and perfectly suited for the twelve-year old boy in your home, A World Without Heroes is the first of three in Brandon Mull's Beyond...moreExciting, clever, and perfectly suited for the twelve-year old boy in your home, A World Without Heroes is the first of three in Brandon Mull's Beyonder series.
The Goodreads blurb for A World Without Heroes is pretty blase and underwhelming, summarizing a plot that sounds not unlike a dozen other adolescent books. A child or teen, at a crossroads in life, stumbles upon a portal or passageway to another world. Adventures ensue. A way home is found, the child older and wiser.
For example, try C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, or even, if you will, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up by J.M. Barry and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
And that's not counting anything else written in the last half a century, like Neil Gaimen's Coraline or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.
Fortunately, Mull's story avoids falling victim to the cliches created by a century of the genre, obliterates the blurb and unfolds into a tale that both entertains and satisfies. Perfectly designed for both the young and the young at heart, Mull's first installment in the Beyonders series starts slow as it builds its characters, then picks up speed as both the plot and stakes climb to exciting levels.
Jason Walker is star pitcher for his baseball team, a good student, is nursing a crush on a cute girl, and has the fortune to volunteer for the local zoo. Fortune, that is, until one day a strange moment at the hippo cage ends with him sliding through a magical portal to another world: Lyrian.
It doesn't take long for Jason to figure out that the people of Lyrian are under the thumb of a malevolent master, the evil wizard-emperor Maldor. Almost by accident, he sets himself on a path to defeat the wizard, and, with the help of another girl from our world, will find himself fighting strange and fantastical creatures and people to end the Maldor's cruel reign.
Starting off slow, A World Without Heroes grew on me with each chapter and plot twist. By the time Jason reaches the apex of his quest, I knew that Mull had me.
While A World Without Heroes is aimed at teen or pre-teen boys, the story has a little something for everyone in the family. More, Mull keeps it clean, making it a great pick to read aloud. (less)
Pete, one of the Six, lives in the completely enclosed and environmentally controlled "Shell" in the year 2035. They are descendents of the few remaining survivors on Earth of a catastrophic alien attack decades before. Kept alive by the grace of the aliens--the Tesslies--Pete and his fellow survivors jump back to the past to rescue individual children, hoping somehow to overcome their captors and restart life again on the planet.
Meanwhile, Julie Kahn is a mathematician and contractor for the FBI helping to hunt down a mysterious crime spree that follows the outcomes of her algorithm. Each event brings her closer to a conclusion she may not be ready to accept.
Skipping between three timelines, the story quickly builds to a crescendo. Kress uses the absence of information as a tool to build mystery and suspense, creating a palpable sense of the ominous. Given how short the book is--a novella, by definition--it was easy to blow through it in just one sitting.
At this point, the book blogger code of ethics demands that I warn you that spoilers follow...or at least, information that could lead you to spoilers.
Despite Kress' excellent writing, I struggled with her resolution. (view spoiler)[Rather than explain anything, it has the effect of deus ex machina, except that we have no idea where the ex machina emerges from. The twist--oh, yes, there is a twist, but if you're still reading this, don't say I didn't warn you--has no explanation in reality or science fiction. It just happens. We never learn how or from whence it came...it just happens. And the major plot device--a time machine, robots, aliens, tidal waives, volcanos--none of it makes sense in the context of what Kress has promised the reader. (hide spoiler)] If Kress had made angels appear and bring a message from God, it would have made more sense than the strange plot device she used.
Ultimately, for that reason, I finished After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall with a feeling of betrayal, disappointment, and like I had just had (view spoiler)[a heavy handed message about the environment stuffed down my throat. I might even have been ok with the message, if Kress had seemed like, just for a moment, she would justify it by some sort of explanation. As it was, though, her story amounts to no more than wishful thinking that might shift this book more into the fantasy genre than science fiction (hide spoiler)]. It's good writing, but in the balance is a disappointing story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)