The first book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass, is a well crafted story awash with a new sense of morality, adventu...moreThe first book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass, is a well crafted story awash with a new sense of morality, adventure and some annoying narrative flaws. While they don’t hamper the experience too heavily, they do detract from an excellent story and a thoughtful approach to the still powerful, if not more openly mocked, position of religion in people’s lives. First, the up sides. Much like most modern popular fiction, the element of story has received most of the attention in The Golden Compass. Our protagonist is little Lyra, a girl with a destiny, which Pullman frequently reminds us of. She has some knack for figuring out a golden compass, a device which is capable of telling a person whatever they ask it. The story revolves around an altered kind of morality which Pullman promotes through Lyra. She cheats, steals, lies and fudges her way out of, or into, all her battles and trials; relying heavily upon hope and intuition to sort out whatever mess is left over. Toward the end of the work, in several pages of dialogue, one of the main characters even goes so far as to basically spell out the matter: the church’s perception of morality is ass-backwards and this story is about a different vision of Good, one just as valid and likely as the next. Pullman’s work starts of with subtle moral overtones but, by the end, is a full blown commentary. This effect is one that seems to highlight and underlying issue throughout the book—the author’s trust in his reader. Whether done with the knowledge that most pop-fiction is read by people who don’t view reading as a thinking endeavor, but rather an escape, or simply because bringing the plot to fruition through mischief and making it an obvious statement was beyond Pullman’s grasp, this issue undermines large sections of the work’s narrative continuity and believability. The essay-like expulsion at the end isn’t necessarily a short-coming when seen alone. It’s well integrated enough, but throughout the book there are other moments where an authorial voice chimes in, as though to beg a reader to keep reading. The plot is interesting and the story is enjoyable, which makes such intrusions all the more annoying. Events are foreshadowed, not by some subtlety of events which, when considered, may point toward their eventual outcome; rather the narrative voice will simply say, eventually this will be important, but she doesn’t know why yet. The unfixed narrative position also leads to minor annoyances when it seems to stick with a certain method of experiencing the world and then veer drastically off course. Keeping within the range of Lyra’s own perception suits the work well, but the random deviations appear to be just that—random rather than somehow highlighting a significant event through the sudden change. That said, the issues themselves are not terminal, nor do they creep up too frequently. The writing itself is well composed and direct, producing few sentences of beautiful language but also conveying the story very well. The general tone of the work is playful and adventurous but produces an air of imminence which works for the story by giving it a sense of importance. The characters are well conceived and functional. There are quite a number of archetypal characters, but in most situations it actually helps to enhance the main crew. Dialogue is mostly believable and works well for the characters. Overall, it’s fairly solid pop-fiction novel with an interesting moral situation to explore and a lot of world-hopping adventures in store for the second two books in the series. The book certainly does a lot with the elements that it uses. More than that, the book is fun in a lot of ways. It’s not outright comic, but it is a story meant to give the reader a ride. Toward this end, the work is a success. It’s fast-paced and enjoyable throughout. Worth a read if you’re looking for Harry Potter type entertainment, but don’t come expecting Proust.
Cons: Direct forewarning which breaks narrative tension and continuity Seemingly random boundary-breaching for narrative voice Lack of reader-trust Total narrative collapse (page 231, transition from third to fourth paragraph)
Pros: Fun story which suffers little interference from other issues Language is clean and functional Potential growth throughout trilogy shows promise Characters are well done (less)
Kelly Link is a sorceress. The stories in this collection, much like her others, begin with something very normal; the magic is where she takes you fr...moreKelly Link is a sorceress. The stories in this collection, much like her others, begin with something very normal; the magic is where she takes you from there. From a story about summer camp to a pair of twins home with a baby sitter, these stories lead places that leave one wondering where they turned onto a set from The Outer Limits. The collection is wonderfully readable, funny and refreshingly hopeful.
My only critique is that Link seems to be putting a little less Link into this collection than her previous one. Leguin, Philip K. Dick are referenced and their themes played out in two stories. The pieces themselves are quite good but very different. It's a bit silly to call variety or experimentation a point against the work (especially when it's done as coyly as Link does it) but the two stories didn't seem quite as charming as The Specialist's Hat.
A collection of shorts worth several reads. Highly recommended. (less)
Paul Coehlo tells a story that gives a little something extra with The Alchemist. The tale is specifically about one thing: destiny. It's not so much...morePaul Coehlo tells a story that gives a little something extra with The Alchemist. The tale is specifically about one thing: destiny. It's not so much caught up in the stodgy concept of fate as it is concerned with a person's dreams, hopes and potential, specifically a young Spanish shepherd's potential. The book traces the boy's adventure sound of Spain, into and across north Africa to Egypt. The term enlightening and uplifting are usually stamped on books about overcoming random contemporary personal issues. In this case I use uplifting in a way that should mean altering. One comes away from this work with an uplifted world-view. That's a pretty good contribution for a remarkably short read.
The only critique I can offer is that the book is extremely well told but doesn't do anything remarkable stylistically. At some points the book enters a moralistic realm, if not outright unitarian. People concerned with contemporary thoughts post-kafka might find the work's themes and tones anachronistic if not outright dated (or "froffy-new-agey"), but I didn't really mind except in one or two parts where the dialog fell too flat.
An excellent read, especially for how short it is!(less)
The Odd Sea is the story of a young boy named Ethan who vanishes from a small western Massachusetts town. That's how it starts, anyway.
Despite the cl...moreThe Odd Sea is the story of a young boy named Ethan who vanishes from a small western Massachusetts town. That's how it starts, anyway.
Despite the cliche of 'lost kid story' and the blatant reference to the Odyssey, cracking the first few pages pretty much means commitment to reading the entire work in one or two sittings. The story is addictive, both for its maintained tensions and its ability to create meaningful relationships amongst characters. Most of these tensions and relationships are focused around Ethan's brother.
Ethan's brother is cast as the story's narrator. He searches his own life for traces of his brother. This develops into a haunting feeling that Ethan may have left more than just a hole in his family. With his disappearance, it seems there is a hole in the world.
The clarity and beauty of the writing only embellishes a well told story further. The voice of the narrator is dead on and the description remains centered. The wrong turn this story could have taken into melodrama-land is expertly avoided by talking about more than just a kid who disappears. Issues on maturity, person darkness, loss and the approach to art are all well addressed.
At the least, the story is a good drama-suspense. At the most, its a dissertation on absence and Nothing. It also avoids the pitfalls of a genre rife with absolute trash.
There are a few flaws. You might really need to squint but one or two plot holes crop up. The book's tension does droop a bit in the middle, partially due to recurring events centered around Ethan's mother. Luckily this stops just short of getting annoying. The concluding chapter also changes in pace. While it doesn't seem hastily written, it can shake the reader a bit. Still, these flaws are minor and really didn't hurt my experience much.