I'm a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson , superheroes, and post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels, so when I heard Sanderson was writing a post-apocalyptic dysI'm a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson , superheroes, and post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels, so when I heard Sanderson was writing a post-apocalyptic dystopian superpower novel, I was quite excited. Sanderson's 2013 Steelheart lives up to that promise, and is the beginning of another great series from Sanderson.
The premise of the book is that some humans mysteriously begin developing superpowers after a comet... asteroid... something... called Calamity appears in the sky. But all the Epics, as the superpowered folk are called, go completely evil. There are no superheroes, just megalomaniacs and murderers struggling with each other for power and domination of the normal people, with regular humans trying to stay our of the way. Each Epic has a particular weakness, though, that can negate their powers, and a group of humans called the Reckoners are trying to fight back.
One of the most powerful of these Epics is Steelheart, who has ruled Newcago for eight years after conquering the city of Chicago and killing the father of our protagonist, David, in the process. David saw his father injure Steelheart, though, and he has grown up trying to piece together what Steelheart's weakness is and how to kill him. At the beginning of the book, he hears the Reckoners are in town, and he sees the perfect opportunity to hook up with them to take out Steelheart.
One of Sanderson's strongest points as a writer is his world-building. That talent is on full display here as he crafts the dark new fictional world of Newcago and of the Epics and Reckoners. Just as Sanderson has done with with the magic systems of his various fantasty novels such as the Mistborn series or Elantris , the way the Epics work is fascinating, full of quirks and interesting mysteries, and yet always self-consistent. Newcago, the former Chicago dominated by Steelheart, is appropriately dark, oppressive, futuristic, and dangerous.
Sanderson also writes great action sequences (the Mistborn series has some of the best fantasy action scenes I've ever read), and he knocks it out of the park on that front in Steelheart as well. With the Epics, high-tech Reckoners, and Steelheart's personal army called Enforcement, there's no shortage of great action sequences that are both exciting and do a great job of illustrating the unique aspects of this setting.
Steelheart is the first in a planned trilogy, and Sanderson does a great job of providing a satisfying conclusion to this book while leaving many threads open to pursue in future installments. I can't wait to read the sequel, due in Fall 2014. There's also supposedly talk of a film version, which I really hope comes to fruition.
If you're a fan of Sanderson, superheroes, or dytopian fiction, I highly recommend Steelheart . Sanderson has really done it again with this novel. It's amazing how prolific he can be in so many different series while still keeping each so original and of such high quality. ...more
Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures (Volume 1) is the first installment in a new anthology series featuring Atomic Robo in a variety of short adventuAtomic Robo: Real Science Adventures (Volume 1) is the first installment in a new anthology series featuring Atomic Robo in a variety of short adventures. Unlike the usual Atomic Robo graphic novel, you'll find no overarching story here, but instead, thirteen different short stories. Overall, the 2012 collection is fun, but lacks the punch of a unified story.
Usual Robo writer and creator Brian Clevinger returns for the scripting duties, and a cavalcade of guests artists provide the art, with usual Robo artist and Scott Wegener providing only the individual issue and TPB covers. The stories are all fun. A few were just too short, though - like three pages short. Still, the longer stories are well done and have the usual Robo depth to them. The art is varied, but all the artists deliver good work that fits the tone of the story they illustrate.
My favorites of the stories are the ones featuring Bruce Lee, the Sparrow, Dr. Dinosaur, and Dr. Tesla's Centurions of Science, because, well, look at that list. That's entertainment right there.
Robo fans will enjoy this entry in the Action Science archives. It won't satisfy the hankering that will only be satiated by Volume 7 of the regular series, Flying She-Devils of the Pacific, being released in TPB, but more Robo is always good Robo....more
Hillary Jordan's 2011 novel When She Woke is a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, set in a theocratic dystopian America reminiscenHillary Jordan's 2011 novel When She Woke is a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, set in a theocratic dystopian America reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I recently read both of those books, and couldn't get into Hawthorne at all, but found Atwood's novel one of the best I'd ever read. Thus, Jordan's mixture of the two piqued my interest, and while I wouldn't call it a classic, I did enjoy it a lot and would rate it closer to Atwood than Hawthorne.
The setting in a future America where the religious right has taken over and there's no longer any separation of church and state - in fact, the US has a Secretary of Faith in the cabinet. A disease has wrecked havoc on fertility (much as in The Handmaid's Tale), which has combined with the religious slant to result in abortion having been outlawed as murder.
Our protagonist is Hannah Payne (analog to Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter), who has had an abortion following an affair with the married Reverend Aiden Dale (the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale update), but refused to name him as the father. The novel begins as Hannah wakes from the process of being chromed by the state of Texas for the crime of murder. Chroming turns the criminal's skin a shade based on their crime, is the punishment of the future, as it doesn't cost taxpayers as much as prison and isn't as cruel to the offender (at least, that's the line). As a convicted murderer, Hannah is a Red, and has to find her way in the world that reviles her.
While Hannah has to navigate the now-hostile world, she also has to wrestle with herself. Having been raised in this theocratic world, she questions her place in it, her relationship with God, her faith itself, and her relationship with Aiden. This part of the novel is as compelling as the dystopian world, and if Hannah doesn't find all the answers, it's entirely believable, as how many are able to conclusively answer all of life's questions in reality?
Jordan does an excellent job of synthesizing her two main inspirations. The modern language and the more relevant near future circumstances make When She Woke much more accessible than The Scarlet Letter. Jordan also does a good job of establishing her dystopian setting. It's not as strong as Atwood's work in The Handmaid's Tale, nor is Hannah's story as heart-wrenching as Offred's, but that's a high bar to compare a relatively new novelist to, When She Woke being Jordan's second novel.
I listened to HighBridge's 2011 production of When She Woke, read by Heather Corrigan. Corrigan does an excellent job of giving voice to Hannah and her tale. The unabridged recording runs approximately 11 hours.
When She Woke is a good novel that does a solid job of using its inspirations well while also taking the reader to new places. If you enjoyed either of The Scarlet Letter or The Handmaid's Tale, or dystopian novels in general, it's worth a read....more
I first read Robert A. Heinlein's Hugo award-winning 1959 novel Starship Troopers many years ago, and greatly enjoyed it. Having recently read Joe HalI first read Robert A. Heinlein's Hugo award-winning 1959 novel Starship Troopers many years ago, and greatly enjoyed it. Having recently read Joe Haldeman's The Forever War and John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, I decided to go back and re-read Heinlein's great-granddaddy of military science fiction. Starship Troopers still holds up, and demonstrates why it's the starting point for this sub-genre.
Starship Troopers takes place in a future where only people who have performed two years of federal service (not necessarily in the military) have the right to vote. Our protagist is Juan "Johnnie" Rico, who signs up for service upon graduating high school and aims for the military. He's placed in the Mobile Infantry, or MI, where he trains to become a high-tech powered armor-clad, tactical nuke-wielding, Marine of the future.
There are a few action sequences related by Rico as they happen, and these are intense and provide the book's adrenaline boosts. Much of the book, however, is Rico recollecting his time in boot camp and, later, Officer Candidate School, as well as the discussions he took part in with influential people in his life, such as his high school History and Moral Philosophy teacher, MI commanders, or MI training staff. It is this sections of the book that form the moral center of the story.
While the story takes place in the future and features high-tech gear and aliens who want to destroy humanity, the central part of the story is really Rico learning what it means to be a dutiful member of society and internalizing the teaching he's received as to how one becomes such a citizen. This moral character arc is very compelling, and while also doing a good job of demonstrating the benefits Heinlein believes are to be found in a citizenship-by-service society.
For being written in 1959, Starship Troopers is remarkably diverse. True, the MI is all male, and - judging by how they pine over women - all heterosexual, but there are MI troops from all over the globe (and Terran colonies), and Heinlein doesn't reveal Johnnie's real name is Juan until well into the book, nor that he's Filipino until the book is nearly over. Women are depicted as being highly-regarded Naval captains and starship pilots. Not bad at all, especially remembering that this was seven years before Gene Roddenberry brought the diverse bridge crew of the USS Enterprise to television.
I listened to Blackstone Audio's 1999 production of Starship Troopers, as read by Lloyd James. James' performance fits this book perfectly. There's not a lot of "flair" to the writing, and James sticks to this with a serious and subdued delivery. This unabridged recording runs approximately 10 hours.
Starship Troopers may not be to everyone's taste, but if you're a science fiction fan, and especially if you're a military SF fan who somehow hasn't read it, you should really grab yourself a copy. Heinlein demonstrates in Starship Troopers why he's one of the legends of science fiction's golden age, and the impact this novel has had on science fiction can't be denied. Some of the elements of the novel may not seem as original now after being copied in books, film, gaming, and elsewhere for half a century, but that's just a testament of how Starship Trooper's influence. This is a must read for the science fiction fan who wants to call themselves well-read in the genre....more
Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 is a science fiction classic that, somehow, I'd never read. With Bradbury's recent death, I decided it was tiRay Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 is a science fiction classic that, somehow, I'd never read. With Bradbury's recent death, I decided it was time to remedy that. Unfortunately, I was severely underwhelmed by Fahrenheit 451, and found it lacking in many ways.
Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel that, despite prominently featuring book-burning, posits dystopia-by-entertainment, like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, as opposed to dystopia-by-oppression, like George Orwell's 1984 or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The evil of the Fahrenheit 451 is not censorship, but television, which has made people so dumb and uninterested in the world that (almost) no one even cares that firemen now burn books, instead of putting out blazes.
The main character is Guy Montag, one of these firemen, who, after a few chance conversations with a young girl next door, realizes he's doing bad things and that the world is a mess. This pushes him to start to consider reading the books he's supposed to be burning, and the novel moves on from there.
Montag, and the other characters in the book, all seem flat. Part of this is that there's no real dialogue or conversations in the book. With the exception of Guy's horrid wife and her friends who basically say "Shut up, my shows are on!" all book, every time a character opens their mouth, it seems they launch into a diatribe - the protagonist and his allies for books, and the antagonists against them. There's no real debate of ideas, and the characters all seem like mouthpieces for Bradbury, either for his anti-technology position or straw men for the anti-book position.
The idea of a dystopia brought on by entertaining the citizens into apathy is a perfectly good one, and Huxley did a fine job with it in Brave New World. However, I just couldn't buy Bradbury's take. As far as he's concerned, technology can only be used to placate the masses through their wall-sized TV's or proto-Walkmen. In Fahrenheit 451, the means of content creation still rest, as they did in the '50's, in the hands of the few. This fails to account for the way technology really played out. Sure, we all have huge HDTV's and smartphones with Bluetooth headphones, but we also use all this fantastic technology to connect with people around the world in ways never before possible, and we seek out alternate sources of information that could never have reached nearly as as many people. Sure, plenty of people just let TV rot their brains, but I'm not convinced that's any different today than the '50's, and the technology now has so many other fantastic and worthwhile uses Bradbury ignores or can't predict. Bradbury also ignores that a large percentage of books aren't any better than TV. Just because it's printed on a dead tree doesn't make it Plato or Dickens.
Let me also say something about the end of the novel and the war background thread. All through the novel there's imminent threat of war, though - perhaps this is to reflect the characters' lack of concern - what the war is about, who it's with, or how it will be fought is never really addressed, until the end of the book. All of a sudden, it pops up in a major way, and then a page or two later the book's over. It's like Bradbury ran out of story and decided "Eh, I'll just toss in a mention or two of war earlier in the book, then let that take care of everything at the end." Maybe this is related to the fact that Fahrenheit 451 started as a short story, was expanded to a novella, then expanded again to a novel. Maybe there just wasn't enough story to flesh the ideas out to that long a format. In any case, the war thread is a horrible deus ex machina (see 1984 for how to weave war into a dystopian story effectively), and the ending is almost a non-ending. I don't mind a grim or ambiguous ending, but Fahrenheit 451 can't even deliver in that way.
The writing style also gave me problems. Bradbury goes on for paragraphs describing scenery in repetitive flowery language, then in a plain sentence or two you hardly notice, he slips in a major event with little emphasis. It's just uneven, tedious, and makes things hard to follow.
I love golden age science fiction from Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, so it's not that I don't enjoy the genre or the era. Yeah, 1950's science fiction has its issues these days, but I don't mind those too much, as writers like Asimov an Heinlein penned entertaining stories with lasting messages. I know Bradbury is looked at in a similar way, but from Fahrenheit 451, I just can't put him in the same class as Asimov or Heinlein.
I listened to Harper Audio's 2001 production of Fahrenheit 451, read by Ray Bradbury. I thought it would be interesting to hear the book as envisioned by the author. I was wrong. Bradbury was not an effective narrator. He has a single tone in which he reads. It can be hard to tell if he's narrating description or reading dialogue, or if he's reading dialogue, which character is speaking. Conversations (such as they are, see above) are horrible to try to follow. I just can't recommend anyone, even a hardcore Bradbury fan, listen to this production. There are other versions out there read by professional audio book readers. Get one of them. It has to be better. One other problem with the production are the track times. These are rarely worth mentioning for audio books, but in this case, they are. The tracks range from 1:37 to 28:37 in length, and for no apparent reason. Tracks aren't tied to chapters or anything else I could discern. They just vary wildly in how long they are, which makes it very hard to keep track of where in the book you are. There's no reason for this. The production includes a 2001 interview with Bradbury after the book itself. The entire production runs approximately 6 hours, and about an hour of that is the interview.
I can't recommend Fahrenheit 451. Yes, it has an interesting premise, but Bradbury just isn't up to turning it into a compelling story. If you're looking for a good dystopian novel, you'd do better to read 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, or Brave New World. And if you still want to read Fahrenheit 451, do not under any circumstances listen to Bradbury's narration of it....more
Brandon Sanderson is best known for epic fantasy novels, both set in his own worlds and completing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. As a big fanBrandon Sanderson is best known for epic fantasy novels, both set in his own worlds and completing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. As a big fan of Sanderson's epics, I was surprised to see the release his 2012 science fiction novella Legion, as it's a much shorter format than he usually writes in. Nonetheless, I'm always pleased to read more Sanderson, and while after reading Legion I still think his talents are best suited for epics, I really enjoyed the novella and am glad he's experimenting with new ideas and releasing more stories for his fans to enjoy.
The main character is Stephen Leeds, occasionally known as "Legion" due to the virtual army of multiple hallucinatory personalities he possesses, and who help him with the various cases he takes on. In Legion, Leeds is hired to find the inventor of a camera that can take pictures of the past after the inventor absconds with the device.
The character of Leeds and the characters of his aspects are a lot of fun and the relationships between them all are very interesting. To me, Leeds and his aspects are the core of this story. The camera bit is sort of secondary to demonstrate Leeds' talents and the dynamic he has with his aspects. Fortunately, it's a very interesting idea. Unfortunately, I wish it had been explored at more depth than a novella can afford. We only see a handful of his dozens of aspects here, and even those few I wish I could learn more about.
The plot about the camera was alright, but as soon as it was revealed, I immediately thought of Isaac Asimov's 1956 short story "The Dead Past," which also has such a device (called a chronoscope by Asimov) and also raises the same problems with such a thing that Sanderson brings up in Legion. It's not that this is a bad plot device. It's actually very interesting. It's just that Asimov pretty much nailed it over half a century ago, and I didn't see anything new from Sanderson on this front like I did with Leeds and his aspects.
Overall, I enjoyed Legion. It's a fun book, Leeds and his aspects are great characters, and I see a lot of potential with him. I just wish we could have seen more development of them, and that the mystery might have been something different or taken in new directions. I'd definitely pick up any future Legion stories Sanderson chooses to write, and I'm happy I was able to read this (and have Sanderson's short novel, The Emperor's Soul, coming in November, 2012) while awaiting A Memory of Light in January 2013 and Sanderson's future epics in his own worlds....more
1984 is, quite simply, one of my favorite books. I first read it when selecting a book for a high school English class project, and have re-read it ev1984 is, quite simply, one of my favorite books. I first read it when selecting a book for a high school English class project, and have re-read it every few years ever since. George Orwell's 1949 novel never fails to move me, scare me, worry me, or draw me in. This reading, I listened to it on audiobook for the first time, an experience I highly recommend.
As most know, 1984 is a dystopian novel - the English language dystopian novel to many (one of these days, I've got to read Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, which preceded 1984). Set in the oppressive future of 1984 in London, the major city of Airstrip One (formerly England), the novel chronicles the efforts of everyman Winston Smith to defy the omnipotent ruling Party of Oceania, the principles of Ingsoc (English Socialism), and - most especially - the ever-present, omniscient gaze of Big Brother, the symbol and embodiment of the system itself.
Smith begins to rebel in various ways, in particular with his lover Julia. Merely loving anyone but Big Brother is itself a crime. Winston and Julia carry on their relationship, both out of feelings for each other and to break the rules they despise. Eventually, of course, they are arrested by the Thought Police, since - after all - Big Brother Is Watching. Taken to the Ministry of Love for re-education, Winston learns what the Party is really after.
Many of the elements of the novel have become concerns for modern times, especially with technological innovations that have made Orwell's science fiction science reality. Surveillance, censorship, perpetual war, manufactured patriotism, control of the language, exploitation of the middle classes. Orwell drew much of his inspiration from the Soviet Union, but it's easy to find examples of all these concerns in the front page of your local newspaper on a daily basis.
As much as the technology is terrifying, the truly disturbing part of 1984 is in the mind of our hero, Winston. His struggle to remain himself while being both figuratively and literally, mentally and physically, beaten down by the apparatus of the party is gut-wrenching, as is the final result of the struggle. The last line of the book is one of - perhaps the most - powerful I've ever read.
As I stated above, this was the first time I've listened to 1984 as an audiobook. I listened to Blackstone Audio's 2007 production, narrated by Simon Prebble. Prebble is a favorite of mine, and he's at his best here. There's a certain gravity to Prebble's voice that invests his work with a power that, while enjoyable in other books, is vital here to reflect the spirit of the novel. Winston's struggles, hopes, sufferings, all are brought to vivid, grim life by Prebble's strong narration. I highly recommend Prebble's reading to anyone looking to listen to 1984. The production runs approximately 11.5 hours.
1984 is a classic. I cannot recommend Orwell's masterpiece enough. Though 1984 has come and gone, Orwell's powerful warning remains timeless....more
Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X, the sixth and latest installment (2012) of the adventures of Nikola Tesla's wisecracking robotic action scientAtomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X, the sixth and latest installment (2012) of the adventures of Nikola Tesla's wisecracking robotic action scientist, pits Robo against a mysterious antagonist who somehow is orchestrating a variety of deadly perils for Robo. This is complicated because, as Robo himself says, "Angering powerful people in charge of shadowy organizations is pretty much my hobby."
I don't want to go into too much detail, given that the story's a mystery and all and spoilers are no fun for anyone. However, each of the traps the mystery antagonist lays for Robo is fun and different, and Robo overcomes them in different ways. Well, usually by employing scientific violence in different ways. But not always!
As for our mystery antagonist, I will say only that it makes total sense when it's revealed, is a great nod to history, and is a foe worthy of Robo. I really liked the villain, their plan, and their motivations.
As usual, writer Brian Clevinger is up to the typical Robo standard of excellence. There's more ominous mystery and less wisecrackin' than previous volumes, but it still works, and still has more humor than pretty much anything the big comic publishers do these days while still keeping appropriate gravitas. Scott Wegener does another fine job with the art, with a particular strength this time out in depicting the physical scale of the challenges faces Robo.
I wouldn't recommend Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X as a first crack at Atomic Robo, as I did with Volume 5, as the tone is a bit different than typical for the series, and - while the story is entirely self-contained, so it'd work in that sense - there's not much history or backstory, especially compared to Volume 5.
If you're an Atomic Robo fan, you should have read this comic already, and if you aren't yet, read Volume 1 or Volume 5 first, then come back to Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X for some angry shadowy organization mystery. Volume 6 is another excellent Atomic Robo story....more