I had wanted to read this sci-fi classic for a while, but when I finally got around to it I was a little underwhelmed. The story depicts humanity's slI had wanted to read this sci-fi classic for a while, but when I finally got around to it I was a little underwhelmed. The story depicts humanity's slow recovery after a devastating worldwide nuclear war.
The novel is divided into three parts, centering around a monastery through the ages. In the first, it is approximately 600 years after a devastating nuclear war. The world has returned to a very primitive, almost Medieval level of technology, where monks protect and try to interpret "ancient texts" that range from scientific diagrams to shopping lists. This part was amusing in how the characters interpreted things much differently than intended, and it did a good job of establishing the world and its history.
The second part advances nearly 1,000 years and now the monastery's technology is at the cusp between Renaissance and Enlightenment. Having the historical documents as a guide has allowed them to make great leaps. Here the emphasis seemed to be more on describing the new world governments and the unchanged interaction between people.
The last part jumps ahead perhaps another 1,000 years or so. In most ways, their technology has surpassed our own. And yet, another world-devastating war looms on the horizon. The abbot wrestles with his own demons as he tries to figure out why this pattern seems to repeat.
I liked the numerous characters and thought that advancing the years so quickly helped keep the book from getting stale. But in the end, it didn't really offer very much. I never felt particularly engaged with the outcome of anyone or the monastery. I have a feeling I may have missed some of the more important symbols or allegories, but in the end it was just a decent read, but nothing remarkable.
I came to this book expecting to hate it. I didn't know a lot of details, but I knew that it was overflowing with references to "all-things-geek" cultI came to this book expecting to hate it. I didn't know a lot of details, but I knew that it was overflowing with references to "all-things-geek" culture from the 80's. Even though I fit that target demographic pretty squarely, I have an aversion to things that are so indulgently referential. I don't know whether that makes me a cynic or a hipster. But despite myself, I had fun with this book.
The story is a science fiction adventure tale, told as a first-person narrative about a man's quest to unlock the riddles that lead to an enormous fortune. The fortune was left by the creator and principal owner of the OASIS, a vast virtual reality network that has supplanted almost all internet, social media, gaming, and business in this not-too-distant future. The trick is that the creator was obsessed with the 80's culture of his youth, and therefore all those who seek his treasure must become obsessed with it as well. This means that they devour all the TV shows, movies, and videogames from that era. Not so much the music, literature, or politics, but I guess we'll just have to let that go.
The story itself wasn't all that compelling or original, but the references keep people of my generation engaged. The book delights in making as many references as possible to things from that era, some obscure and some not. I guess it is designed to evoke that nosalgic "Wow, I had forgotten about that!" response, but it still felt like a gimmick. However, I will confess that I was thrilled to see a favorite arcade game from my youth, Black Tiger, feature prominently in one part of the story.
In his defense, I did think the author was very imaginative. There were several interesting ideas peppered throughout the book. The action is engaging and the writing style is easy to digest, making this almost guaranteed to be optioned as a movie in the next year or two....more
A great little book about how having more options actually makes it harder to decide, and by extension makes us less happy.
The book is filled with musA great little book about how having more options actually makes it harder to decide, and by extension makes us less happy.
The book is filled with musing and anecdotes about how choosing is difficult and how having more choices increases the problem. It also contains plenty of research to back up his conclusions, although this is far from a scientific work.
Schwartz includes philosophy and psychology in a very natural and conversational style to make the subject engaging. He addresses not just the abundance of choice in modern society, but also the concepts of being a maximizer or a satisficer, expectations vs. regrets, and the effects of opportunity costs and learned helplessness. My list of some of the topics may make it seem like heady stuff, but it really isn't.
My one problem with the book was that it tended to be repetitive. Also, it was redundant. There were times when it felt like a sentence was just saying the same thing as the previous two. I mean, it's even in the title: "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less: How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction." I suppose the author was trying to reinforce his points, but in a book this thin it just felt like padding....more
An attempt to describe how people and families develop and adapt to their surroundings to survive in the modern era.
I really loved Franzen's previousAn attempt to describe how people and families develop and adapt to their surroundings to survive in the modern era.
I really loved Franzen's previous novel, The Corrections, but Freedom just didn't hold a candle next to that one. It is probably unfair to compare the two, but I feel it is necessary at some level. Part of what I loved about The Corrections was the complicated and nuanced interactions between the characters. Thoughts or actions early in the book sometimes didn't make sense until you saw them mirrored later by another character. You could see how completely different circumstances brought out similar behavior from parent and child. There were fascinating parallels between parents, children, and siblings. Freedom tries to get that same feeling, but it came across as forced and artificial to me.
The story revolves around a husband and wife, their two kids, and their best friend from college. All of them have ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, but little of it seems to mean anything. I didn't find any of the characters compelling enough to care what their outcomes were.
I've read that The Corrections was semi-autobiographical, and I can't help but think Freedom is as well. The obscure rock star character whose one heartfelt album suddenly propels him to fame on the indie circuit probably tracks pretty well with Franzen's own rise in the book world. The problem is, the rock star is always the smartest and most observant person in the room, which taints the book by making it feel like a vanity piece. He's not flawless, to be sure, but it was distracting.
Another bothersome aspect for me were several chapters that were supposedly an autobiography written by one of the characters. The language, style, and detail seemed no different from the rest of the novel. It strained my suspension of disbelief to think she could write that well or with such clarity. And if you're not going to adopt a different voice for those chapters, why bother with the trope of an autobiography at all?
I wasn't expecting to like Freedom as much as The Corrections, but I was expecting it to be different. Instead, it read like a failed attempt to recreate that book, rather than explore new territory. There were moments I enjoyed and some humorous passages, but overall I wouldn't recommend it to anyone....more
A compilation of quotes and anecdotes about famous properties that have had long journeys to make it (or not) to the big screen.
The main problem I hadA compilation of quotes and anecdotes about famous properties that have had long journeys to make it (or not) to the big screen.
The main problem I had with this book was that it just wasn't as interesting as you would think. I suppose that's somewhat inevitable when you're dealing with "what if" scenarios. Here, every chapter seemed exactly the same: someone had a screenplay, maybe the studio was interested, it was rewritten by someone else, management changed at the studio, now it's on, now it's off, so-and-so wants to star, it needs another rewrite, etc. It just got tiresome very quickly. It was like listening to someone at a bar talk about how great their life would have been if they had just completed that pass during the big high school championship game. Who cares?
Contributing to this is the style in which it was written. All the stories seem assembled from magazine articles and websites(?). If there was any original research done, it certainly didn't stand out. Maybe each chapter was originally written as a blog post, but for a book I needed more.
My last complaint is probably not the author's fault, but it's a big one. The pages are laid out with full justified paragraphs. This is a terrible idea for a book and the editor should be shot. Open to almost any page and you're greeted with a solid wall of gray text. Awful.
With all these complaints, why aren't I giving it just one star? Well, I think if I hadn't already been familiar with many of these stories then they would have been interesting. Also, the chapters are thankfully dedicated to particular movies, so it allows the reader to easily skip around to only what interests them. It's not a good book, but there are some decent tidbits if you're just curious about the subject....more
A retelling of the Arthurian legends from Merlin's perspective.
It is a first-person narrative of Merlin reflecting on his life. As this is the first bA retelling of the Arthurian legends from Merlin's perspective.
It is a first-person narrative of Merlin reflecting on his life. As this is the first book in a series, most of it deals with him as a child and young adult. It isn't until the very end of the book that the story hits upon any of the more familiar points in the legend of King Arthur.
This book seemed full of half measures, which made me only half like it. Merlin is half-royal, since his mother is a princess and his father unknown. Later in the story when he meets his father, he only halfway fits into that world as well. He's quite clever, but he's only partly a wizard because he sometimes has visions, the rest is done with trickery. But even his "visions" are only halfway effective, because often he blacks out and has no memory of them. This doesn't make for good reading if the narrator cannot remember what happened.
Merlin is often portrayed as a passive "vessel of God's will." I would have much preferred for him to take a more active role in his own story. Also, I wish the author had chosen to explain all of his feats through intelligence or made all of them real magic. Either would have worked. Instead, we get a strange hybrid that wasn't fulfilling or particularly interesting.
The book did pick up towards the end, mainly because it found direction as it intersected with the story of Arthur. I doubt I'll continue in the series, but if I did I suspect the following books may be better with a stronger narrative thread....more
A chilling account of the devastating hurricane that struck Galveston in 1900.
Similar to the San Francisco Earthquake or the Great Chicago Fire, thisA chilling account of the devastating hurricane that struck Galveston in 1900.
Similar to the San Francisco Earthquake or the Great Chicago Fire, this massive storm destroyed huge amounts of property, took a terrible death toll, and was a decisive part of Galveston's history. Unfortunately, unlike the other cities, Galveston never really recovered from this hurricane, at least never to the level of glory it had before.
Like he does in other books, Larson chooses to tell the story of this piece of history by focusing on one man. In this case, it is Isaac Cline, the official meteorologist for Galveston at the time of the storm. This works really well, and not just because Cline lived through the storm himself. In following Cline's biography, we also learn quite a bit about the (fairly recent) science of meteorology and its incorporation into US government services. It was frustrating to read how the political aspects of the National Weather Service interfered with good science (and common sense) and certainly contributed to the terrible lack of preparedness.
Larson has done a great deal of research, which allows him to provide numerous anecdotes and vivid descriptions. However, the book still felt lacking. I would have preferred much more detailed facts and figures, as well as photographs, to really fill out the magnitude of this tragedy. Instead, the book seems more concerned about Mr. Cline and his era than the storm. Which is, of course, just the order they're listed in the title as well. I enjoy Larson's style of writing, but in this book I really wanted more storm, less narrative....more
A beautifully written account of a famous historical figure that bridges the gaps between what we think we know, the historical records, and what factA beautifully written account of a famous historical figure that bridges the gaps between what we think we know, the historical records, and what facts we can surmise.
Cleopatra lived in very interesting times and interacted with almost all of the big players. As is said in the book, the world seemed so much smaller at the time.
The author does a great job of bringing all of the characters to life as well as giving a good sense of what life was like in that period. The details read like excellent fiction rather than an historical record.
It is an interesting paradox that we seem to know so much about what happened around figures such as Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Caesar Augustus while at the same time knowing so little. The records are often written many years or decades later, missing, or just plain biased (either accidentally or intentionally). Schiff does a good job of addressing this, while still making arguments for certain actions or motives based on available data.
She also writes from a very contemporary perspective that is well aware of all the various myths and incarnations of Cleopatra over the centuries. By acknowledging these hazards, she is able to keep the narrative light and conversational.
Overall, an excellent and very enjoyable biography....more