it's best to go into this atmospherically creepy book knowing as little about it as possible: a woman picks up male hitchhikers on lonely st4.5 stars.
it's best to go into this atmospherically creepy book knowing as little about it as possible: a woman picks up male hitchhikers on lonely stretches of scottish highway, and they're not seen again. it sounds like a standard horror story set-up, but what's actually going on is much stranger (though a straight-up plot summary would sound kind of silly, so seriously, don't go looking for one). like peeling back layers of an onion, we gradually get to know this lone woman, though never completely, and maybe that's because she doesn't know herself anymore.
it's not a story for the squeamish, especially since it's going to hang out in your brain for a good while to come. genuinely original, and gorgeously written, if you have the stomach for it....more
4.5 stars, only because it gets a little slow in the middle, but otherwise easily one of the best books i've read in a good while.
AH. i finally get it4.5 stars, only because it gets a little slow in the middle, but otherwise easily one of the best books i've read in a good while.
AH. i finally get it. people who love Banks' culture novels LOVE these books rather rabidly, and though this is the 4th of his novels (3rd in this series of mostly stand-alones) i've read, this is only the first one where i understand that sort of excitement about them. the common kudos tossed around for his writing finally clicked for me: in this book, the ship names are utterly hilarious, and the AIs are deliciously snarky, and the culture's ulterior motives of being sinister for your own good is all too apparent.
Cheradinine Zakalwe comes from a more backwater (non-culture) sort of planet with a robust military career, and thusly has benefit to the culture as an operative of occasional need - apparently "utopia spawns few warriors". he's deployed as necessary to planets not quite ready for absorption into the culture, to help nudge wars in the direction that has been determined to be best (though he frequently has no idea exactly who is supposed to win or why). he is himself a battle-hardened warrior gifted in the "use of weapons" - diplomacy, generalship, assassin-craft, as well as guns n ammo - and he is himself a weapon used by the culture.
Zakalwe is (so far in my reading) Banks' most identifiable and "standard" protagonist - that blurb above makes him sound like a michael bay movie action hero - and in many ways, that's the case. Banks, however, turns much of this trope right on its head, and the story is ultimately more about personal cost than about huge explosions. additionally, because he's an outsider to the culture, this book can serve as an excellent intro to the series.
as a random aside, Banks is the author that now has the distinction of appearing most frequently on my personal "wow WTF" shelf - 3 out of his 4 i've read - so take that however you'd choose to do so. it's a rare tale indeed that will have me literally gasping aloud with surprise (or shouting shocked expletives, good or bad) at a genuinely, thoroughly unexpected moment in the story. i haven't been a fresh-eyed teenage reader in many a year now, so i really like it when an author can actually shock/surprise me, but YMMV of course. Banks can be kinda gory in those moments....more
3.5 stars. it's a lot of fun, but in a popcorn-chomping summer movie kind of way.
zach is a bratty, entitled white house staffer, straight out of cent3.5 stars. it's a lot of fun, but in a popcorn-chomping summer movie kind of way.
zach is a bratty, entitled white house staffer, straight out of central casting's stock of "smart-mouthed whippersnappers." for reasons he never completely figures out, he gets assigned to be the liaison for the president's vampire. turns out, Andy Jackson bound the bloodsucker with a magical oath to uphold the integrity of the union, so the US has its own one-man black ops team; supernatural hijinx ensue, ass is kicked.
this book reads a whole lot like a summer action flick. it's quick and compellingly readable, full of the sort of sassy, snappy (i.e., ridiculous) dialogue that Bruce Willis would toss out of the corner of his artfully bruised mouth during a torture/interrogation scene. both of the major characters are fairly one-dimensional, and besides a couple of bit parts, there's not really any women to get in the way of the budding bromance. villains get to monologue as heroes realize they just screwed up. flipping to the back page's author's blurb, one finds out that he's a Hollywood screenwriter, so the only surprise at this point is that they haven't gotten around to filming this just yet. ...more
myfanwy thomas (don't worry, that welsh mouthful gets pronounced for you on the first page) wakes up in a downpour, surrounded by corpses, no4.5 stars
myfanwy thomas (don't worry, that welsh mouthful gets pronounced for you on the first page) wakes up in a downpour, surrounded by corpses, not knowing who the hell she is. turns out she's highly placed in a somewhat different branch of her majesty's secret service, and she just got burned. figuring out which of the psychically and supernaturally gifted members of her organization did the burning, while not letting anyone know she's not herself anymore, sets up a delightfully twisty mystery that's richly punctuated with moments of hilarity (dry british wit FTW!!) and surprises.
'the rook' is a fast-paced mashup of bits of the x-files, the x-men, and torchwood, with perhaps a bit of thursday next thrown into the mix. the tropes of "burned secret agent seeking revenge" and "amnesiac figures out what happened" are nothing new, but O'Malley mixes everything together in a very fresh way that ends up being an intriguing examination of how you could live up to your potential if only the baggage of being you wasn't in the way. in a refreshing departure from the increasingly formulaic urban fantasy standard, our heroine isn't a cookie-cutter leather-clad vampire-flirting tough, but instead, a very competent and capable administrator (in fact, a few times too competent for someone who's lost her mind). we get to explore this bizarro world with her, and it's an awfully fun ride....more
once upon a time in 1845, 129 men set sail in two aging but well-proven exploration ships to try and discover the northwest passage up & over theonce upon a time in 1845, 129 men set sail in two aging but well-proven exploration ships to try and discover the northwest passage up & over the top of canada, thereby connecting the sea route from europe to asia. they spent 3 years locked in the ice of the arctic seas with dwindling supplies and morale, and then...
Simmons spends a leisurely 900+ pages ruminating on the what-might-have-been of that expedition. the monotony of months spent on the unmoving ship trapped by an endless, sterile, frozen forest of razor-edged ice peaks; the primal afraid-of-the-dark fear of seasons without the sun; the depths to which men will sink, trapped like overcrowded rats - make no mistake, this is a horror tale, not a salty Patrick O'Brian sea adventure. the voyage conditions themselves are certainly bad enough, and then the polar bears, scurvy, Esquimaux magic, and food poisoning show up.
'the terror' is wonderfully atmospheric - i felt actually physically guilty when i had enough to eat and a place to read warmer than -75F - at times approaching too much description of the seracs and ice ridges. sprinkled very occasionally throughout are some spectacularly bravura WTF action sequences, utterly memorable whether or not you'd like those particular images lingering in your dreams. yes, it's long, but it's definitely not a slog.
somewhere in upstate new york, there's a secret college for magicians that's most definitely not hogwarts. getting into it doesn't involve being whisksomewhere in upstate new york, there's a secret college for magicians that's most definitely not hogwarts. getting into it doesn't involve being whisked away by a felicitous note, but instead a day-long SAT/practical exam on nonsense ("The room was filled with a collective rustling of paper, like a flock of birds taking off. It was the motion of a bunch of high-powered type-A test killers getting down to their bloody work."), with a mind-wipe for those without passing grades. and once you get in, there will be no silly incantations or wand-waving: it's all professor snape's class, all the time.
Grossman has written a deliciously subversive take on the fantasy coming-of-age-tale. magic college is hard work, with just as much cram sessions, drinking, and ill-advised sex as you remember in your more mundane college days...and post-graduation holds just as much world-weariness as any other bored, privileged , hipster yuppie lifestyle. in fact, the grind gets a little too realistic, dragging down the middle section, though it feels genuinely honest. there are startling moments of beauty and brutality scattered throughout the fantastic prose, and i have huge props for anything that surprises me enough to literally make me drop my book to exclaim "holy ^$@!!"
i managed to get to the end without skimming too much, so the fair part of me wants to give it two, but the only reason i didn't twow, one star, huh?
i managed to get to the end without skimming too much, so the fair part of me wants to give it two, but the only reason i didn't throw this across the room at several different places is because i love my ipad very much. if you're not deeply interested in:
repetitive day/dream sequences rape hitting people upside the head with ballpein hammers casual racism casual brutality to women not covered under the heading of "rape" brutal racism stream-of-consciousness internal monologue verbal diarrhea repetitive day/dream sequences hitting people upside the head with "blunt object"
then i suggest you avoid this particular book, being as how there's the above in full measure, repeatedly. i'm completely ok with an author dragging my mind through the muck, as long as there's a payoff at the end...and here, there are no quiet moments of beauty, no insinuations of human kindness to leaven this bleak, bloody, intestine-draped shabby hotel room. if it was possible to bleach my brain, i'd do so, as there are a few choice scenes that i really hope won't linger in my subconscious like i think they will.
the narrative switches perspective between a police detective and a journalist each investigating the yorkshire ripper murders that took place in 1977; both the cop and the newspaperman have their own shady dealings that muddy up the situation and make the ripper murders merely a background to their own messy lives. unusually, this one was the only book of peace's 4-volume set describing these crimes to be included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and it most definitely does not stand on its own without familiarity with the first one.
it helps to remember that the 1001 books list was compiled mostly to cover the development of the english-language novel, not necessarily the best books ever written. so sometimes in reading through these, you end up with some unusual or experimental writing, either the first or the best example of some literary technique. if this is the shiniest diamond of stream-of-consciousness depressingly gritty crime fiction, i'm soundly disinterested in pursuing other examples....more
Yagharek is a garuda, an eagle-man from the desert, who has lost his wings in punishment for one of the worst crimes among his people. feeling trappedYagharek is a garuda, an eagle-man from the desert, who has lost his wings in punishment for one of the worst crimes among his people. feeling trapped earthbound, he journeys to the crowded, crumbling city of new crobuzon to seek help from
Isaac is a rogue scientist; he can't be bothered to teach a steady class at the university, and he'd much rather dabble in research on whatever topic catches his fancy. Yag's need to fly, and the possible solution in Isaac's pet theories on crisis energy launches him into a creative frenzy. when he comes up for breath, he slips away from the censure of the nearby faculty to live his open secret cross-species love for
Lin, an up & coming bohemian artist, is a khepri - a russet-skinned woman with a scarab beetle head. she's just taken a once-in-a-lifetime commission for a truly grand sculpture, one that will require her most bravura work. she'll never gain fame from this potential masterpiece, given the requirement of secrecy from the patron
Motley is possibly the city's prime crime lord, a shadowy figure with webs extending everywhere into the city's underbelly. he's cornering the market on a new drug who's effects are far worse than sobriety ever could be, something that will take many lives in its production.
these people's lives interlock in ever-closer patterns along with beautiful monsters, , robo-monkeys, steampunk clockworks, demons that exist in alternate planes of existence, AI, Shelob (?!), Crime and Punishment and Justice, and the crumbling mucous-dripping stained stench of the decaying city streets. Mieville gets full marks for creativity - this book is overflowing with imaginative ideas & nightmares. getting to all those pearls, though, necessitates have to wade through a whole lot of baroquely ornate prose rife with excessive descriptors. more than once, it starts to feel a bit too clever for its own good (e.g., my dictionary says that palimpsest = "writing material used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased", though each of the half-dozen times that word ostentatiously crops up, it generally means something closer to "a stench of many layers"). the first 200 pages are a slowly meandering stroll through the gritty, tired city before the story sharply veers off into exciting horror novel territory, and then finally fizzles some under its own weight. it felt like work to push through the last chunk of it, and i put down the book feeling it was solidly (somewhat disappointingly) a 3 star read.
24 hours later, though, all those ideas are still boiling up through my brain, and it occurs to me that the idea of "choice-theft" as the highest form of crime is a far more elegant way of phrasing my own personal morality. something that gets that far under your skin is pretty damn impressive, even with all the palimpsests of mucous....more
a changer (a rare, humanoid race that can alter features and body type to impersonate others) James Bonds his way across several galaxies on a missiona changer (a rare, humanoid race that can alter features and body type to impersonate others) James Bonds his way across several galaxies on a mission for his non-humanoid employers; numerous adventures ensue. the story careens from one high-tension escape to another, many of which are cinematically flashy, but frustratingly few of them actually move the plot forward. while many of the supporting characters are engaging, the changer is a rather unlikable ass, so when awful things happen to him (and this book isn't for the faint of heart, Banks gruesomely puts him through the grinder) you notice a lot more shock value than sympathy.
Banks has a lot of really cool ideas, and if you enjoy immersive worldbuilding, this will be right up your alley. the rest of the culture universe sounds well worth exploring. ...more
if you pick up this sequel, try to devote the time to reading it straight through before you can think too much about the ridiculousness of what's goiif you pick up this sequel, try to devote the time to reading it straight through before you can think too much about the ridiculousness of what's going on in there. 'one foot in the grave' starts out as a fast-paced actioner, and clips along at a pleasingly speedy pace right up until our hero bones returns to cat's life, after which this becomes a silly romance novel complete with all the expected romance novel tropes. in the first book in this series, cat was occasionally hard to like because her naivete came off as stupidity. 4+ years later, at the start of book 2, she's gone through a lot more in life - she's a more worldly leader of a military-style team of vampire hunters; she's confident in her abilities to kick ass and get stuff done. when bones returns from his exile, though, cat's IQ is halved and idiocy takes over. an unnecessarily convoluted plot to free her from a big baddie (a friend of a friend...oddly, the whole "let's just ask him right quick if he'd mind not being a jerk" plan never comes up) gets tossed in the trash due to a stupid slip of the tongue. and perhaps worst of all, bones' "british accent" comes off way more austin powers than james bond (who would never say "shag" when he just wanted to f***)....more
clary is a fairly normal NYC hipster 15 year old (art classes over the summer, single-parent mom) who stumbles headlong into a whole 'nuther world. seclary is a fairly normal NYC hipster 15 year old (art classes over the summer, single-parent mom) who stumbles headlong into a whole 'nuther world. see the back-of-book plot blurb up top: it's fairly accurate, and tells you everything you need to know about whether or not you'd be interested, without giving away all the details.
given the large number of either 1- or 5-star reviews, this tends to be a love-it-or-loathe it type book; i'm solidly in the minority by just finding it to be ok. clare's worldbuilding is quite good - don't read the details in other reviews, discovering the interesting touches is a large part of the fun. our heroine slowly but steadily comes to accept her strange new surroundings & companions in a believable way, rather than with overwrought protests or bizarrely easy acceptance. the story of her awakening in this world, and her potential place in it, is fresh and zippy, and overall a pretty solid tale.
the major flaw, though, is the writing style. every kid in this book thinks and speaks in complex simile and rapier sarcastic wit - it's far too adult a tone for characters we're frequently reminded are all 15. they're all pondering whether the others are going to "go off in the corner and have sex right there" while they're longing for coffee and cigarettes, like all of the above is just so no big deal. it's vaguely unsettling, especially when you remember that the precise reason A Clockwork Orange was so disturbing was that it's sex- and mayhem-fueled protagonists were also 15....more
'the swarm' is essentially a michael crichton novel sans editor. just like in crichton's work, you learn a whole hell of a lot about the subject(s) un'the swarm' is essentially a michael crichton novel sans editor. just like in crichton's work, you learn a whole hell of a lot about the subject(s) under discussion...but more so here, it gets in the way of the plot moving.
the dustjacket flaps give you a pretty sound plot outline, particularly that bioluminescent glowy blue alien life forms reminiscent of those from 'the abyss' are way pissed about people trashing the planet and set about causing some major (un)natural disasters. unfortunately, the search for wtf is going on is pretty much the plot of the first half or more of the book, so read this or read the back, and it's already pretty soundly spoiled for you.
there's a good story going on here, with very interesting characters, but we really really could have used that editor to rein it in just a bit. focus, schatzing, on where we're going with this and not with dreamscapes of some eskimos, and it'll work out better....more
this book starts out in the lightly comic self-referential fashion of a mockumentary - so much so, that i rather believed i was reading a work of fictthis book starts out in the lightly comic self-referential fashion of a mockumentary - so much so, that i rather believed i was reading a work of fiction for about the first 1/3. the author has himself written so heavily into the opening bits of this story ("i called this person", "i went to visit that one") that i just found myself waiting for the ashton kutcher figure to jump out of a closet announcing we were all punk'd, that this was just a little joke.
our intrepid journalist friend goes off in search for the truth about some entertainingly kooky goings-on at various military bases in the US. turns out that after the trauma of Vietnam, some guys decided there had to be a better way to wage war, and one of them wrote a how-to manual for it. through convoluted applications of the theoretical "warrior-monk" practices, we end up with a soldier who believes he can stop a goat's heart (or a hamster's) just by staring at the creature; a general who routinely attempts to walk through walls ("the atoms are mostly made of just space, after all"); a high-ranking officer who claims on public access tv to be "the real obi-wan kenobi."
it's all fun and games until we get the hint that it's supposed to be funny, that the public fails to notice the actual horror of psychological warfare if we're all busy tee-hee-ing about how they used the barney "i love you, you love me" song to torture prisoners.
a quick-paced, entertaining and unsettling read, even if you're not a die-hard conspiracy junkie....more