The first page of the prologue begins with a line of dialog: "I quit The League tonight". It's a well-chosen, well-constructed first line for a novel,The first page of the prologue begins with a line of dialog: "I quit The League tonight". It's a well-chosen, well-constructed first line for a novel, if not particularly original or precisely "great". It is, in fact, exactly the kind of thing you'd write after ten minutes of pondering how to start a novel about an assassin who quits his secret assassin cult to rescue a fair damsel, some time in the days immediately following a three hour writer's workshop held at the local book store by someone who had recently published his or her first novel.
You know . . . a few days later, so you have time to forget some of the advice you might find on the first webpage that comes up in a search for "first line of a novel" when you're stumped for ideas on how to write a great first line.
It's a good opening line. It's a short sentence, and while it does not immediately grab you the way some of the greatest first sentences of novels ever written do, it does perhaps intrigue the reader. It hints at something big and, perhaps, shadowy. It serves to introduce the protagonist in a way that says something about his decisiveness, about his past, and about his relationship with that past, but it does not overburden itself with detail. Good job, Ms. Kenyon.
The next couple of pages make up for that. Quite ample detail overburdening follows shortly, mostly by way of ominous narrative pronouncements, flashy visual markers that scream "I AM A LETHAL ASSASSIN FROM A CULT THAT DOESN'T KNOW WHAT 'SECRET' MEANS". Some boring observer character provides a bit of narrative perspective without seeming particularly important, and seems privy to all the ultra-secret super-assassin character's non-secrets. The expository detail revealed through this perspective character's attention is, in fact, nothing like the kind of detail he would likely notice, having already known the shadowy assassin guy -- who is, I shit you not, "literally one with the blackest night" according to the narrative text -- quite long enough for these flashy status markers to fade into his conscious background.
Literally? Are you serious? I do not think that word means what you think it means.
We find out later that, in addition to being apparently made up of nocturnal lack-of-sunlight-stuff and an inseparable condition of identity with the middle of the half of the diurnal cycle without direct illumination by the nearest star -- but only some nights, the "blackest" of them -- he also has fangs. Well, okay, then. Did I mention his "armor" snugly fits his (well-muscled, obviously) figure like a latex glove? Of course it does. For some reason Mr. Blackest Night has white-blonde hair like all the other assassins who are One With The Night, by the way. Yes, we're still on the first page (except for that fang thing).
On that page, about two-thirds of which is actually used (the top third nothing but the word PROLOGUE and some whitespace), in the midst of all that overburdened detail (plus a distinct paucity of details about the perspective character, apart from the fact he's some kind of doctor-professor type), Ms. Kenyon finds time to insert three separate instances in addition to the first line of the novel that are one-line, short (or short-ish) single sentences laden with melodrama and dramarama and maybe some bananaramadrama -- rather more than a dram of drama per sentence. Let us examine our potently purple prosaics:
1. He was used to that. (note: The (melo)drama in this line is entirely dependent on the preceding paragraph.)
2. They only felt the sting of death as he dealt it to them. (note: This would actually be a much better, less ham-handed line if it was just included at the end of the preceding paragraph. Ms. Kenyon evidently believes she must bludgeon her readers with the significance of the line.)
3. No one voluntarily left The League. (note: I'm beginning to feel like The League is the title of a football movie.)
Beautiful stuff. It's like poetry. No, really, I mean it. I have this wonderful book somewhere around here, titled Very Bad Poetry, which has provided me hours of delight. Ms. Kenyon's writing is at least slightly better written than most of that book, though I dare say it is probably rather less enjoyable, on the whole.
Let us not get distracted. I really want to share the first line of the second page, in which I have not altered the emphasis one whit. This is the first case of italics in the novel:
Once more, with full context:
No one voluntarily left The League.
In case a separate line was not good enough for highlighting the absurd melodrama of the second single-line statement here, there's a page break. I wonder whether that was an intentional text layout decision.
I admit I read much of the second page as well. It does not get any better.
I also skipped around the novel, and found that every chunk of text I read was in some respect trite, threadbare, overexposed, melodramatic to unreasonable extremes, or otherwise ill-advised. I got input from the missus, who got some 170+ pages through this thing before her endurance finally broke down and she gave up on it, thus proving she has far greater strength of will than mine. She told me much about the insipid nonsense strewn throughout, including paper-thin "worldbuilding" that reads like paint-by-numbers in some pretense at providing something original rather than just filing the serial numbers off boring everyday aspects of life in the United States. In fact, hearing the missus describe the way Ms. Kenyon describes the interplanetary world in which our protagonist and his female love interest live, I get the distinct impression Ms. Kenyon changed the names and planets of origin of things in one of the many similarly-plotted assassin-gone-rogue novels out there and called it a day. Only the author's introduction, talking about the main characters of this novel being imaginary friends from her childhood, contradicts that impression.
Obviously, I could not bring myself to read the whole of this book, or even more than a cumulative dozen or so pages' worth while searching (in vain) for some sign of good writing.
This is the first thing I found while skipping around, and I leave it as parting words for you in case you think I am just being overly harsh about the first couple pages and the rest couldn't possibly be that bad because beginnings are hard:
"No, I haven't," she breathed, trying to stay calm. He had a soul, she knew it. She'd seen him do too many things that contradicted such brutality. "I asked you once before if you enjoyed killing. Do you?"
He looked away from her.
For a moment, she didn't think he'd answer, then he shook his head. "I hated it," he whispered, pushing himself away from her.
"I hated it," he said -- no, he whispered. I immediately thought of that "romantic" scene in Star Wars: Attack of the Clowns where Hayden Christiansen's petulant tweenager's delivery did nothing to improve the slimy stalker quality of a terrible come-on, beginning with "I don't like sand."
I remember reading an interview with Gibson once, decades ago, in which he said that he finds it awkward the way people ascribe great technical knowleI remember reading an interview with Gibson once, decades ago, in which he said that he finds it awkward the way people ascribe great technical knowledge to him because he knows very little about computers and other technical matters. He admitted to knowing next to nothing about his own computer at one point, and focused his novels around the snippets of things he did know about science and technology only as a way to create window dressing for his speculations about the human condition in a technologically advanced future.
This, of course, is his particular genius as a writer of speculative fiction. He extracts intriguing insights from the way people change as their worlds change, projecting that forward into a future imagined around the direction of sociopolitical and techno-economic (to coin a chintzy buzzword) evolution. His Blue Ant novels dug deep into the present, which I believe served in some respects as a way to recalibrate his sense of the future because of how fast things are changing now, and how easy it is for science fiction (and other speculative fiction) writers to make the mistake of predicting things that look laughably out of place by the time a manuscript hits the presses.
During that recalibration, he seems to have learned some things about accelerating sociopolitical change as much as about accelerating technological adancement. People have commented on the happy endings in the Blue Ant series, but I always detected a hint of concern about the bigger picture and the ominous dangling questions about the greater implications of some things that were not central to the plots of those novels. Perhaps my keen interest in everything Gibsonian allowed me some recalibration as well during that period of Gibson's writing that gave me some insight into the real meaning of how things ended in The Peripheral, because I find myself going through several phases of (mis)understanding of what happened before arriving at a very different conclusion about how this novel ended than many other reviewers.
Let's start somewhere around the beginning before I get to the end:
Take a healthy helping of cynical world view, and apply it as a filter to the (already somewhat bleak, and less-well directed) world of Doctorow's Makers, plus a less dramatically over-the-top variation on the authoritarian hellscape of Doctorow's After the Siege (from his Overclocked anthology). Sprinkle some Breaking Bad, and some . . . no, never mind. I'll never finish describing it this way. Suffice to say he combines all the not-going-away-soon desperation and despair mounting in the present world with the coming-quickly rapidly accelerating cheap plastic (and not shiny at all) technological advancement going on all around us, mediated and propagated by moneyed interests whose only motivations are profit margins and international sociopolitical influence. Upon combination, what we end up with is a future within (most of) our expected lifetimes that is at once both weirdly out of joint with most people's expectations and eerily familiar (and somehow quite inevitable-seeming).
Throw some characters into this who read like emotionally damaged hybrids of the characters in his preceding three trilogies, then connect them by efficient data networking to a future farther ahead of their world than theirs is from ours. In that farther future -- well, imagine how the Tessier-Ashpools and their contemporaries might have developed in a world where the technological singularity mostly just killed people with grinding gradualness, but only people without sufficient resources to protect themselves, which means almost all people, and where that technological singularity spat out a future hindered by the perverse incentives of centralized bureaucratic power so that "post-humans" are still depressingly limited humanity and decadence breeds stagnation.
People die. The good guys are either somewhat hapless and broken (but strong-willed) bystanders swept into a maelstrom beyond their understanding or the chillingly pseudohuman apparatus of various thoroughly inhuman entities, but all of them painted in prose that sweeps the reader into irresistible sympathy with their respective plights. People who recognize the horrific, unacceptable atrocity that would be committed by a particularly vile form of chemical weapon attack later end up casually disintegrating people directly in front of them by simplistically directed nanotech swarms that rapidly "disassemble" their targets, and no guilt or horror seems to follow from this.
Reviews comment on the denouement of The Peripheral as a "happy ending", and sure, there's some "we have lovely romantic pairings and the good guys win" in there, but given their presence in the midst of the dark context of the climax mere pages before that I can't help but note a couple of things that set that whole notion of a happy ending on its head:
1. The lesson of the "jackpot" -- the world-destroying conditions that accompanied the lopsided, pathologically progressing singularity envisioned in this novel -- was recognized by some of the characters: shortsighted authoritarian economic and sociopolitical management is really what destroyed the world. Unfortunately, recognizing it doesn't stop the protagonists and their confederates from setting forth to make the same mistakes, in principle, with only superficial alterations in how things get handled. One might weep for the world they will create, at least initially for the best of intentions.
2. People blithely entered into this "happy ending" without the kind of agonized reflection on how they got there one might hope they should face. Winning, and with spectacular immediate wealth, seems to have a tendency to strip away the humanity that made them the good guys in the first place. In the end, the same weapons used to beat the "bad guys" were the weapons the "good guys" found so horrifically unconscionable when used by the "bad guys" in the beginning. Far from fixing the world, they've become the very people they fought.
I don't know if Gibson intended everything I saw here, but my experience of his writing suggests he probably intended at least 98% of it, and perhaps a lot more that I have not yet recognized.
It's a grim ending, dressed in party clothes, with an impressive level of sophistication and depth of meaning heaped on top of a vividly imagined and artfully described pair of futures that manage to conjure the strangeness of immediately pre-singularity and more distantly post-singularity worlds while still keeping them subject to narrative presentation. For all that and quite a bit more, I find myself unable to give The Peripheral fewer than five out of five stars....more
In The Pleasure Groove was a bit scant on details. I got about as much out of it as if it was a much more in-depth, detailed account, and skimmed a loIn The Pleasure Groove was a bit scant on details. I got about as much out of it as if it was a much more in-depth, detailed account, and skimmed a lot, instead of reading it all closely as I did. Despite that, it revealed quite a few informative anecdotes that gave me some insight into the life of (Nigel) John Taylor, and his relationships with the other people in that life -- including the other members of Duran Duran.
I found it interesting that, by the end of it, I found that he took responsibility for everything he did that was less than respectable while, at the same time, laying it all at the feet of addiction-as-disease, as some force beyond his control. I also found it interesting that he did not ever give any substantive impression that he held anything against anyone else, and avoided saying anything explicit about people making blame-worthy decisions, in what struck me as a show of understanding of others' perspectives rare amongst humans in general and celebrities in particular. The result is that he comes off as rather mature about the whole thing.
Overall, I enjoyed the read, and the insight into a band whose music I've also enjoyed for a very long time, though I wish there was more substance to the individual tales he had to tell....more
There's a lot going for this story -- good art, good beginning, good characters, good development, good writing, pacing, and so on. The subtle (possibThere's a lot going for this story -- good art, good beginning, good characters, good development, good writing, pacing, and so on. The subtle (possibly accidental, but I prefer to think they were deliberate) questioning of the most common tropes in traditional comic book storytelling was quite a nice touch. On the whole, I enjoyed Superior.
Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it as much as I hoped. There were two or three ways that I thought things might go, pushing the edges of readers' expectations -- like making it about the supposed hero succumbing to his weaknesses and becoming the villain, or discovering that his simplistic identification of authority figures as the "good guys" was naive when he realized they were complicit in many of the troubles of his world, or the real hero turning out to be the actor instead of the character he played.
The "twist" plot device, the villain's (along with the villain's patsy's) behavior, and the resolution of the climax were all plot-driven rather than character driven, pat, trite, and a bit hard to swallow, though. It did some serious damage to my appreciation for the story overall, as did the highly simplistic, naive, and somewhat four-color worldview (with edges poking through only in the "safe" places).
The denouement was simultaneously over-the-top positive and -- because of the quiet way some life-destroying illnesses were left largely unresolved -- simultaneously quietly dark (even if only unintentionally so). This is a good thing, because it lent some gravity to the ending while still showing that life does go on, even for those doomed by the entirely prosaic horrors of Real Life.
A charitable reading of the denouement, in terms of its writing quality, lends it surprising depth in a somewhat despairing manner. A more likely interpretation, I think, is that the cartoonish resolution of the climax gives us evidence that the denouement's overtly more cartoonish appearance is all the author really intended, and the greater depth we see is wishful thinking.
I picked this up at a whim when I saw it on a shelf at the library. Something about the cover just caught my attention, and I hoped to surprise myselfI picked this up at a whim when I saw it on a shelf at the library. Something about the cover just caught my attention, and I hoped to surprise myself with something interesting and outside my normal interests. Unfortunately, it did not "wow" me.
The very beginning of it all was good enough as set-up, though the failure to "show, don't tell" was a bit overt. Shortly after that, it descended into a structureless ramble that lasted through a significant percentage of the book. It was more entertaining than the "begats" in Genesis, and an easier read than the soul-crushing numbers of the dead in The Gulag Archipelago but it was less informative than those "begats" and less gripping than those numbers. I slogged through it in bits and pieces while finishing other reads much more quickly.
It finally started picking up some real storytelling. I don't remember when, exactly -- maybe two thirds of the way into the book. At that point, I hoped it would build toward an intense, or at least engaging, climax, as well as a satisfying conclusion. Instead, what I got was a satisfying climax and a conclusion that felt a bit forced, but at least it held my interest enough to read much of the ending in one sitting before it dropped that interest on the floor.
Overall, I don't feel like it was a criminal waste of time, and I did like some of what the author obviously intended to convey, even if I did not feel like he did the best job conveying it....more
First of all, the artist does an amazing job of conveying the story -- the emotional impact, the action, and the connectedness of the unfolding plot -First of all, the artist does an amazing job of conveying the story -- the emotional impact, the action, and the connectedness of the unfolding plot -- through illustration.
Secondly, the storytelling is really quite excellent as well . . . until the end approaches, and the revelations that draw the plot together feel a bit rushed, almost like the writer had trouble figuring out how to let things unfold naturally, so he ended up just kinda dumping it in the reader's lap via awkward in-character exposition.
I found the wrap-up a bit jumbled, and the "big reveal" that draws the plot together somewhat difficult to swallow in its over-the-top drama, but the story as a whole was so well put together up to that point in every way that it still managed to warrant four stars, in my estimation. I have found that graphic novels from the French "comic book" market seem to enjoy some of the same virtues, and suffer some of the same vices, as the writing in Naja carried with it -- which makes sense, given the writer evidently got his start there. I think some US comic book writers could learn some things about storytelling by both reading and writing in the French market some more, and some French comic book writers could learn some things about how to tie a plot together by both reading and writing in the US market some more.
In addition to being a great read, the hardbound edition of this story is beautiful. It's going to look fantastic sitting on my shelf....more
There's a sort of natural flow to the way one storyline gives way to another in this series that I quite like. There is not particular volume in whoseThere's a sort of natural flow to the way one storyline gives way to another in this series that I quite like. There is not particular volume in whose review it's most appropriate to say this, of course, because there is no point at which a storyline has completely finished without another starting, but I have been thinking about that fact while reading volume fourteen.
This volume continues to satisfy with excellent storytelling, in text, in plotting, in illustration, and in character development. The conflicts between characters are believable within the context of what has come before. Given how badly things have gone for Bishamon so far, I wonder how she will react. Obviously, I look forward to the next volume.
The anime based on this series has been quite good so far, and I hope there will be another season, but the manga continues to be significantly better....more
This seems to be one of the most character development heavy volumes so far, and it is excellent. While I found the "big reveal" quite obvious quite aThis seems to be one of the most character development heavy volumes so far, and it is excellent. While I found the "big reveal" quite obvious quite a while before it showed up (I actually thought this might be the case when a previous volume first hinted at it), it did not lose any significance and impact for me. In fact, the foreknowledge of it with just that hint of uncertainty of whether I had guessed correctly may have enhanced the effect. That takes some good storytelling.
It continues to be clear (thanks to the translation notes) that some of the excellence of the ongoing series is attributable to the efforts of the translators, though of course the lion's share lies with the original artist and author team. As always, I look forward to the next volume....more
This volume was mostly a bit of fun with undercurrents of character development, though I found some of the awkward handling of Hiyori's emotional disThis volume was mostly a bit of fun with undercurrents of character development, though I found some of the awkward handling of Hiyori's emotional distress at times tiresome, especially combined with some of the over-the-top silliness going on around her. The threads of character development were interesting in the abstract, though, and the short story arc involving the old woman at the end was easily up to the standards of the rest of the series. Unfortunately, most of the book fell a bit short of that. I felt this volume warranted a three star "liked it" rating overall, with the story arc involving the old woman easily reaching into the range of a four star "really liked it" rating.
. . . then the blatant references to a secret in the last few pages felt a touch ham-handed.
This probably seems like a negative review, but it's really only negative because of the contrast with the generally very high storytelling quality of the series as a whole. It was still a good read....more
If there is a downside to this volume, it's the fact that some of the significance of what happens in Yomi might be a bit lost if the reader is not alIf there is a downside to this volume, it's the fact that some of the significance of what happens in Yomi might be a bit lost if the reader is not already familiar with the concept. The translation notes at the end help somewhat, but most readers will not read them until after the fact (and I would normally suggest reading the translation notes only after the fact, then possibly re-reading the manga if the reader desires). It's difficult to recommend reading before or after in this case, because I think there's potential for the native English speaker to get some extra enjoyment of discovery of plot points without already knowing some of the details of the story's cultural context in advance, but in this particular volume the Yomi material might be particularly opaque without that cultural familiarity. Unfortunately, I think even the translation notes -- excellent, informative, and very interesting, as they always are for this series -- do not convey the full depth of meaning in the events surrounding Yomi. I've been watching anime and reading manga for close to three decades (longer if you count the few things that made it to US television in the early '80s) and have studied Japanese language and culture somewhat, and have a little better feel for the Yomi context in this volume than conveyed by the , but I still feel like I missed something.
This volume of the Noragami series upholds the high standard of quality writing and art I've come to expect. There is a lot of depth to the world, relationships, and backstories in this series, especially relative to the standard of other manga and even bestseller novels in the US. Sometimes, I wish some of the foreshadowing might have found its way into the story a little earlier than it shows up, so that it might feel more natural and less like the author just came up with an idea a couple short chapters before bringing its subplot to climax, but the manga medium tends toward very fast-paced story development, so I suppose there is only so much to be done about that.
As always, Noragami is a fun read, engaging and absorbing, and its development of character, plot, and story is nuanced and interesting....more