I picked this up years ago at a used bookstore, probably due to its exuberant back-cover blurb: "perhaps the finest novel about werewolves ever publis...moreI picked this up years ago at a used bookstore, probably due to its exuberant back-cover blurb: "perhaps the finest novel about werewolves ever published!" this year's "read 12 grandmasters in 2012" challenge has finally brought it bubbling up to the top of the TBR pile, and while I don't know if it's the best, it certainly is a refreshingly unique take on lycanthropy.
will barbee is an alcoholic newspaper writer, reporting on the return of an expedition from the far east. they arrive with a mysteriously heavy locked box and a discovery that will change the world, if only one of them can stay alive long enough to tell it. a more complete summary would be overly spoilery, and a large part of the fun (and horror) of this story is the unexpected angles in the plot turns.
like plenty of 50+ year old novels, this comes off a little dated. people generally don't dess up for dinner anymore, and the idea of keeping your secretary-mistress in a swank apartment-hotel seems like the seedier side of a b&w donna reed era. the prose is often a little too restrained and mannered: in a way, is is about spiraling into madness, and I think the horror would have been more immediately visceral if it was written a bit messier. that being said, the plot itself and the science (science! in a werewolf novel!) were utterly fresh and accessible. (view spoiler)[huge bonus points for the bleak ending that avoids the reluctant hero's triumphant cliche. cool!! (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
in a far more lush and gothic olde england, a decidedly NOT virgin queen rules over a golden age of expansion, exploration, and harmony. a secret popu...morein a far more lush and gothic olde england, a decidedly NOT virgin queen rules over a golden age of expansion, exploration, and harmony. a secret population of those who have slipped into disfavor or diminished in fame live in between the walls of her sprawling palace. her gorgeous reign of peace and prosperity is built upon the blood and misery of her unlamented insane father. she keeps a seraglio of willing creatures of every sort because she loves them too much to ever turn anyone out of her household. court intrigues abound and formal costumed ceremonies usher in every season.
it's a lush, thick, dense sort of gothic sort of stuff here.
prose is overabundantly bursting with descriptions of fabrics that courtiers wear and lists of types of buildings that can be found in the city square; sentences curl baroquely across half a page at a time. it's dedicated to (and, i'm given to understand, a pastiche of) Mervyn Peake, so perhaps if i'd read Gormenghast, i'd be more in love with the heavy silken texture. as it is, when a nefarious plot feels the need to show up halfway through the book, i couldn't decide if it was good to get things moving along, or merely a distraction from all the overwrought wordsmithing. it's a strange lovely book, but (view spoiler)[the fully insanely over-the-top blood & indifferent rape ending just completely lost me (hide spoiler)].
eat this one in small bites, perhaps with some very light-reading sort of short stories handy as a palate cleanser every few chapters.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
this book is delightfully clever, in the same way that a 50s romantic comedy (e.g., 'bringing up baby') is, with sweet witty banter and interesting mu...morethis book is delightfully clever, in the same way that a 50s romantic comedy (e.g., 'bringing up baby') is, with sweet witty banter and interesting musings on the way the world is put together. it's a little madcap, certainly funny, but not over the top or silly. is it sci-fi? well, there's no robots or outer space, but it is fiction about scientists doing research, so sure, why not?(less)
'city' shares a whole lot of DNA with Foundation and I, Robot: a bunch of loosely connected stories slowly builds to a whole picture, without a centra...more'city' shares a whole lot of DNA with Foundation and I, Robot: a bunch of loosely connected stories slowly builds to a whole picture, without a central character to anchor them. with improvements in technology (farming, transportation, economics), the necessity for people to band together into cities is dissolved, leading to the eventual end of war (if you can't shoot at a target, well...), and perhaps the end of civilization wherein everything goes to the dogs. it's a novel of ideas rather than plot or character, which means though it's occasionally very interesting, it's almost always distant or clinical, and there's nobody to provide that gateway to being emotionally invested.(less)
read as part of the "read 12 grandmasters in 2012" challenge, this book was a shining light of awesome in the murk of older works riddled with the...more4.5*
read as part of the "read 12 grandmasters in 2012" challenge, this book was a shining light of awesome in the murk of older works riddled with the problematic racism & sexual politics of their eras. it also happens to be a particularly marvelous example of the plot spinning out an excellent "what if?".
"rich man or dead man" says the back cover of my copy, and that sums it up pretty well. the future of the human race is believably gritty: overpopulation, overpollution, a scrape for survival for all but the super-rich. when Rob wins a lottery, he uses all the winnings for a ticket to gateway and the opportunity to become a prospector - flights outbound to uncertain destinations in the galaxy usually end up as a bust, sometimes result in injury or death for the prospectors, but on a few occasions a great find means everyone involved strikes it rich for life. that's the great "what if?" of this story - what is everyone willing to risk for the chance to live in comfort?
alternating between flashbacks of time spent at gateway and time spent in the shrink's couch to deal with what happened at gateway, the novel subtly, slowly builds up tension while allowing the reader to get to know Rob very well without huge info dumps. it's both technically masterful and an exciting read, well deserving of the hugo/nebula heaped upon it. (less)
ah, Heinlein: when he's not completely off the fucking deep end into icky-sex territory(1), he's such a fun writer. I think a lot of times, the kookoo...moreah, Heinlein: when he's not completely off the fucking deep end into icky-sex territory(1), he's such a fun writer. I think a lot of times, the kookoo stuff in his later works overshadows his body of work as a whole, so it's nice to come back to one that's fairly free of insanity(2).
in classic Heinlein fashion(3), our protagonist is a salty, quick-witted, ex-military man, equally keen on being his own boss as he is on the aerodynamics of a woman's brassiere. he's an engineer working on household robotics in a very down-to-earth, practical (sellable!) fashion(4); his unfortunate general lack of business sense and a trusting nature get him thoroughly screwed over by his business partners, hijinks involving cryosleep and time travel ensue.
pros: it's fun, it's breezily quick, Heinlein's distinctive chatty voice makes even mundanities seem like adventures, revenge is about outsmarting & outliving the jerks rather than about, well, vengeance. cons: lots of bla-bla about cats(5), it's kinda shallow - interesting exploration of paradox issues relegated to cocktail hour chat.
footnotes may be slightly spoiler-ish: (1) I'm looking at you, Time Enough for Love (2) nudist colonies being rather tame stuff, especially when discussed without a drop of salaciousness (3) and yet, somehow not much the dude version of a Mary Sue, being not particularly annoying, other than the endless praises of tomcat philosophy (4) this casual, DIY, "it's easy if you just muddle with it a bit" approach to science is exactly the sort of thing that would inspire a young reader to consider a career in science well within their reach (5) spay & neuter your pets, folks!! (less)
i didn't enjoy this book often, and though it's not very long, it was a slog to get through.
reading 'dying inside' was much like watching the performa...morei didn't enjoy this book often, and though it's not very long, it was a slog to get through.
reading 'dying inside' was much like watching the performance of a stereotypically grim-faced soviet gymnast. the technique exhibited is near-perfect and utterly precise, but there's no connection with the spectator, no interaction transmitting joy for the art. considered by some to be silverberg's masterwork (and perhaps autobiographical), 'dying inside' is intensely focused on just one question: what happens when a man who has been able to read minds all of his life slowly finds himself losing that talent in middle age? most typically, genre fiction uses those "what if" questions to springboard off into a wider story, but here the focus remains entirely on the question itself. the protagonist's unexplained power sets him apart from family and peers, shapes his whole life, and grinds him down as it starts to slip away from him. we never really feel what it's like to have this ability, we only watch David working through it. it's a very quiet, deeply intimate (voyeuristic?) book; it surprises me how something dealing so messily with emotion ends up feeling so...emotionless. there are moments of shining brilliance ("Axiom: It's a sin against love to try to remake the soul of someone you love, even if you think you'll love her more after you've transformed her into something else."), but the whole is gazing too far inward to engage those of us spectating. that soviet gymnast may be utterly in their personal heaven, exhilarated by what they can do, but without some sort of connection, we can't tell from here.
yeah, 2 whole stars. yes, i'm aware that it's ASIMOV, that it was part of the BEST SERIES EVER Hugo award, that it's most definitely a sacred cow of t...moreyeah, 2 whole stars. yes, i'm aware that it's ASIMOV, that it was part of the BEST SERIES EVER Hugo award, that it's most definitely a sacred cow of the SF canon.
problem is, to a modern reader, it's more than occasionally boring, and very very dated. some bonus points because it's a fine example of an intellectual, thinky, non-violent SF (i.e., space ships are useful for more than just blowing stuff up), i just wish it had more of a cohesive plot.
a mathematician/sociologist comes up with a whole new branch of statistics/psychology/future prediction that he dubs "psychohistory". he uses this system to predict that the allied galactic government will shortly be collapsing into war & decadence, and so he plans out an enclave community designed to keep the intellectual torches burning for when the knowledge is next needed. throughout 'foundation', we get updated as to the project's success via brief glimpses into it's current overseers.
asimov states in his introduction to the version i was reading that he's mystified as to its continuous popularity. "it's just a series of short stories that i made up on short notice, with no cohesion or common character running through them. but apparently people like them." the smug, aw-shucks tone of the intro is mildly off-putting, but it's accurate: there is no commonality of character or narrative that consistently engages the reader throughout the book. if you do find you like a protagonist of any of these moments in history, he's gone at the end of that vignette.
additionally, this future was written before asimov kicked in with his "women's lib" beliefs, so the only woman with a speaking role here is a shrewish wife harping on her husband's shortcomings; all other women are referred to off-camera, as the "wives and families" of these future politicians. though it was 1940/50-something when these stories were written, after all, it can be a little tough to give the implied sexism a pass.
if books play out like movies in your head like they do in mine, this one is in black & white, and it's a bunch of men dressed in 1950s suits sitting around talking and oh-ho-ho chuckling gentlemanly at each other about how clever they all are, and there's a painting of a typical super shiny phallic-shaped 1950s rocket ship pasted to the outside of the window glass. (less)
this old chestnut of the genre is as unevenly a mixed bag as most multiple-author short story anthologies usually are. though there are plenty of inte...morethis old chestnut of the genre is as unevenly a mixed bag as most multiple-author short story anthologies usually are. though there are plenty of interesting ideas and not a few literary gems stashed in here, time isn't being kind to this collection. stories get rather repetitive if read back-to-back: I don't actually need an explanation of the laws of robotics in each one, and many characters' voices sound very much the same. female characters are few and far between, and when one has a position of authority, she's either a "cold, unattractive spinster," or "just a poor woman" doing a job no man would want. if you think the 50s-ish idiom is quirkily cute, this has to be a fun romp, but for those of us that think it's hokey, well, let's hope Asimov got better with future installations. (less)
once upon a time in the future, feeling too much is bad, intellectualism is right out, and reading any one of the near-infinite list of banned books i...moreonce upon a time in the future, feeling too much is bad, intellectualism is right out, and reading any one of the near-infinite list of banned books is enough to get you imprisoned or killed. books are for burning, life is for living at high speed and with little regard for anything other than tonight's episode of desperate housewives. firemen light the paper bonfires, and this is of course one man's awakening from all the 50s cold-war future-that-isn't-yet.
I know it's utter blasphemy to only score this genre classic as merely ok, but it's been proven yet again that however marvelous I may find his short stories, bradbury's novels just leave me cold (no flaming pun intended). a future where all the damned "minorities and womens' libbers" have mucked it up for the rest of us somehow comes off vaguely uncomfortably as an old reactionary's response to our overly politically correct world, rather than the subversive call to arms I think it's supposed to be. all women are housewives, nobody cares about anything yet no one will just quit their crappy jobs, and the mysteriously well-read villain is infinitely more interesting than a protagonist that repeatedly tells everyone just how stupid he is. there is of course plenty of fantastic ideas in here (and here's where the blasphemy takes off), and I just wish someone would write a jazz riff on fahrenheit 451. take the bones of these great ideas and reflesh them in something more profound, or even just more up to date, and make it relevant again to the reality tv and instant gratification world. (less)
LeGuin is perhaps a writer's writer. in many ways, her worlds and her thoughts, and most especially the words she builds them with, take precedence ov...moreLeGuin is perhaps a writer's writer. in many ways, her worlds and her thoughts, and most especially the words she builds them with, take precedence over character and plot. though the setting is bleak and utilitarian, this is an utterly beautiful book.
physicist Shevek hails from an anarchist communist world that split off from the infighting class structure of the nearby sister planet a couple hundred years ago. alone among his comrades, he journeys back to the homeworld (the why of that journey moves most of the novel), and experiences just how different the other side lives. clearly a tale written during the cold war, the home planet is neatly recognized as a possible substitute for decadent western culture, but the anarchists aren't exactly familiar reds. LeGuin's other strong point is her ability to genuinely convey the sense of otherness that an alien civilization would be. "alien" here doesn't end at a green guy with a ray gun, but is indeed a truly different way of existing. communication is problematic not because you don't speak the language, but because you can't comprehend the thought.(less)