Sometimes you just want a straight-forward adventure novel with believable, complex characters in a richly-imagined, detailed, and internally consiste...moreSometimes you just want a straight-forward adventure novel with believable, complex characters in a richly-imagined, detailed, and internally consistent environment. Books like that are startlingly hard to find, especially well-written ones.
Virga has the advantage of being a strikingly original and breathtaking complete world.
Oscar Wilde said, "When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me."
I'm starting to think, though, that that's not quite correct. We have to assume s...moreOscar Wilde said, "When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me."
I'm starting to think, though, that that's not quite correct. We have to assume some things in order to function as a normal person. We have to assume gravity will work, that our relationships are approximately the same as they were yesterday, that things will (for the most part) stay where we put them, and that most of the things we knew to be true yesterday are still true today. You start to make an ass out of yourself when you assume things that you have no basis for (that a person will behave a certain way because of your own preconceived notions, rather than because of evidence-based conclusions) or when you hold onto your assumptions too tightly. Like a good scientist, you have to hold your hypotheses lightly, ready to surrender them for new ones when they're contradicted by your observations.
I assumed that this book was a fairly standard post-apocalyptic survival novel. The protagonist is a male called Hig who narrates in clipped sentences and thoughts. He flies a plane with his dog Jackson as a co-pilot. At that point, I had a pretty good picture of the rest of the book. Action-packed, heroic, lots of glorious fighting.
That was entirely wrong. A science fiction book is usually a book about an idea. This book isn't. It's all about feelings. It's about unexpected situations, and tricky ethical quandaries that aren't all laid out in black and white.
That makes it sound insipid, but it's not. The clipped, no-quotes-mark style of the prose and dialog have been as carefully crafted as any poem. Hig has suffered brain damage as a result of surviving the disease that has killed more than 99 percent (as far as he knows) of humanity. He thinks differently now, and he's been solitary for so long that thought and speech blend into one another.
This book is about what it feels like to survive the end of the world. It's creative, character-driven, and deeply poetic. Nothing is as it seems, and nothing conforms to the stereotypes of the genre.
Heller, an author and a poet, has thought long and deeply about his characters. The love story, when it emerges, is far from simple. Like the characters experiencing it, the story is complex, and much more realistic for it.
If you were expecting the typical post-apocolyptic survival novel, and if you cling to that assumption, you will be disappointed. If you're open to reading a poetic (and not the flowery kind), deep, thoughtful, ambiguous novel, then you're going to love it. I certainly did. It was honest, true, brutal, and beautiful.(less)
This is a wonderfully enjoyable anthology. What it isn't, sadly, is nearly as enjoyable an anthology as Warriors or Songs of Love and Death. In all an...moreThis is a wonderfully enjoyable anthology. What it isn't, sadly, is nearly as enjoyable an anthology as Warriors or Songs of Love and Death. In all anthologies, the quality is going to be uneven. Some of it will be due to the raw material the editor had to work with, and some of it will just depend on your taste. (And possibly also the barometer, the phase of the moon, the amount of sunspot activity going on that month, and who knows what else).
In any case, I enjoyed most (but not all) of these stories, but I didn't revel in them the way I have in some other Dozois stories. Even the Gabaldon fell a bit flat for me. And don't get me started on the Martin, to which I was greatly looking forward. It was OK for Tolkien to write history books when he did, because no one had done it before. I could barely make it all the way through Martin's, and I've come to expect so much more of him.(less)
Many people recommended Divergent to me as a book that I would enjoy.
It is exceedingly interesting (and telling) that after all those people had read...moreMany people recommended Divergent to me as a book that I would enjoy.
It is exceedingly interesting (and telling) that after all those people had read Allegiant (but before I had) they came back and, in the most delicate, gentle way possible, rescinded their original recommendation. One told me she wished she'd never finished the books. One emailed:
"Have you ever been on a cross country trip and had an unexpected delay at, say, an airport of the large Midwestern hub variety? You were just waiting and waiting and nothing seemed to be happening? And when things did finally happen you were so rushed and felt so unpleasant that you longed for a return to the lengthy delay? That is literally how you might feel."
I feel for Roth. I feel like she thought she had this great idea for a novel and then realized that writing science fiction—especially the world-building bit—is way harder than she expected.
In a science fiction book, the science either has to make some sort of sense or at least have a compelling reason for us to suspend our disbelief. Roth never pulled that off. She told us a lot about genetics and divergence, but none of it actually made sense or showed up in the actions in a rational way.
Almost nothing in Allegiant makes sense. Much of what we learn contradicts everything we thought we learned in the first few books. (This has the potential, used once, to be original and enlightening, but loses effectiveness logarithmically the more it happens.) Roth didn't execute the dual narration well.
The events of the ending didn't upset me quite as much as it could have because I was so proud of Roth for making a brave plot decision. (As she points out repeatedly, though, there is a very fine line between brave and stupid, and just because it's brave doesn't mean it's not also stupid.)
I'm glad we didn't get the trite, facile ending I thought we were.
It would have been nice if there had been any sort of resolution, any sort of message or lesson. But there wasn't other than, "Wow, humans are screwed up." I didn't learn anything. I didn't think any new thoughts (unless vivid and upsetting nightmares count). I didn't enjoy spending time with any of the characters. I didn't like spending time in their world, which was not only grim but nonsensical.
I can't recommend this book and I shudder to think about the movie. It's got three stars, though it only deserves two. The third is because I feel for Roth and because she was a bit brave.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Karen Lord is probably tired of being compared to Ursula LeGuin, but it's probably going to continue because that's t...moreWhat a lovely, unorthodox novel.
Karen Lord is probably tired of being compared to Ursula LeGuin, but it's probably going to continue because that's the best frame of reference I have. This is another science fiction book that is much more about feelings than it is about ideas.
It's also atypical in its story shape. It was hypnotically cyclical in that the action didn't necessarily follow a strict A-then-B path. There was a lot of thinking about things and processing (none of it done too externally, which can be obnoxious.)
It is a wonderful, beautiful, thought-provoking book.
Also, there was a great bit with an elephant. There's never NOT a reason to kiss an elephant. (I lie: Of course there is. Don't kiss an elephant if you carry TB, OK?) (less)
That's it?? That's the big mystery, the rewarding pay-off that was supposed to make this book worth it? That solution was something I (and I bet a maj...moreThat's it?? That's the big mystery, the rewarding pay-off that was supposed to make this book worth it? That solution was something I (and I bet a majority of other readers) guessed early in the first book and then dismissed with a "Nah, that's way too obvious and boring."
I will go calm down and then try to write a review.
[Two weeks pass]
Apparently I'm not going to calm down all that much. I had complicated and conflicting feelings about Divergent. It was fun to read and I respected what Roth was doing with the characters even though much of the plot and pretty much all of the world-building made next to no sense.
However, I did feel impelled to pick up Insurgent right away to see what was going to happen next. What happened next was nothing, and a whole lot of it. There was a lot of angst, Tris has fairly serious PTSD, and very little happens. Even less happens just once. I wonder if this book was rushed to publication. Or if the first one, being Roth's first novel, benefited from a longer period of editing and then latency before reaching publication. Or perhaps Roth just had a good dose of first-book luck
Regardless, Insurgent is a morass of poorly planned plot, self-absorbed angst, and hollow emotional development.
It really wasn't going all that well.
And then I reached the ending, and I missed the merely mawkish mediocrity of the rest of the book.
The ending—the big reveal we were all waiting for, the development I hoped would redeem the books—went over with all the grace and ingenuity of a lead balloon. Not only was it obvious, it was so obvious, that I had discounted it as an explanation early in the second book. It would barely even be a spoiler to list it here. Just think of the most disappointing, simplistic explanation for the city's isolation and you've got it.
I'm sorry if this review feels like an attack on the book. Honestly, I wouldn't be so disappointed if I hadn't been so hopeful.(less)
If I were to write a report card for Divergent it would look like this:
Character development: A Plot/Pacing: A Dialog: A+ Writing: B+ Originality: B World...moreIf I were to write a report card for Divergent it would look like this:
Character development: A Plot/Pacing: A Dialog: A+ Writing: B+ Originality: B World Building: F Overall Plausibility/Suspension of Disbelief: F
Which leaves me with a final rating of . . . what, exactly? Perhaps I should turn to the academic 12 point scale to help. If we assume equal weighting to each category (and let's, because otherwise we'll be here all day), that gives us a 7.3/12.0, which scales to a 2.8/4.0, a high C or a low B. That feels about right. Because I admire the author's pluck and dedication, let's round it up to a low B and call it fair.
This book takes a while to get into, mainly (for me) because the whole premise is just so wildly implausible. The idea is that all people hold one of five virtues—courage, humility, peace, knowledge, or truth—to be the singular most important characteristic, to the myopic exclusion of all other moral values. Once each adult turns 16, they're given an aptitude test to discern their natural inclinations. The decision they make the next day, the ideal they choose, determines the rest of their life. If someone chooses differently from their family, they are cast out and can expect to be shunned by everyone they knew before. I cannot imagine a society where this sort of artificial division of humanity would evolve, let alone be sustained.
The first twist of the plot is that our protagonist Beatrice tests as having inclinations to not just one but three of the virtues. This does not seem improbable. What seems improbable to me is that more people don't get this kind of test result. Everyone seemed shocked. But unless humanity has gone through a strong selection event (which may be what Roth is implying, or I could be giving her too much credit) people are much more complex than that. They might not all be shining beacons of morality, but most people I know value more than one ideal. The universe Roth creates is overly simplistic, unbelievable, and poorly conceived. It's also not original—it's basically Rowling's four wizarding houses taken to improbable extremes.
The world Roth built made it difficult to become emotionally invested, or even interested, in the characters she peopled it with. Mainly because my brain kept popping in to point out how absurd the premise is and that these people shouldn't even have to be dealing with these problems. Not just because they were awful, but because they were also unlikely and preposterous.
I should note that this may be a minority reaction, possibly limited to people used to reading about created science fiction or fantasy worlds, and who have an expectation that those worlds be rigorously thought out, internally consistent, plausible, and at least fuzzily sensible.
However IF (and this is a very big, 555-foot-tall IF) one could get past the nonsensicality of it all, the story was quite good. The characters were well-developed, the writing was clean and competent, the dialog was almost pitch-perfect, and the plot and pacing were excellent. If one is able to simply accept the world as Roth sets it forth, the book itself is quite good.
I'm waffling between three and four stars for this book. If it bumps up to four, it will be because of the breathtaking emotional honesty of the book, and the courage to come right out and say in print that sometimes humility and self-sacrifice trumps pride and bravado.(less)
This was . . . poorly written. It was nice, in that David Tennant narrated it, but poor in all other categories: Plot, character development, writing,...moreThis was . . . poorly written. It was nice, in that David Tennant narrated it, but poor in all other categories: Plot, character development, writing, and ability to not contradict itself twice in any given paragraph. I listened to it over two workouts and didn't particularly enjoy it at all.(less)
I'm kind of embarrassed to even admit that I read—listened—to this.
Is it great literature? No. Is it even well-written? No. Am I going to complain? D...moreI'm kind of embarrassed to even admit that I read—listened—to this.
Is it great literature? No. Is it even well-written? No. Am I going to complain? David Tennant was reading me a story to entertain me during a 12-hour drive. So, no.
The weakness of the writing and the dialog was more than made up for by Tennant's enthusiastic performance. He sounded happy and engaged, and if he was sneaking off during breaks to groan about some of the lines, it certainly didn't show in his voice.
The plot was fine, and the author captured the characters acceptably. But, really, "David Tennant reads you a story," is about the best that can be said about it. And that's plenty.(less)
Are you the kind of person who will read 11 books, just so that you're properly prepared to read the 12th?
Apparently I am.
This book is the whole reas...moreAre you the kind of person who will read 11 books, just so that you're properly prepared to read the 12th?
Apparently I am.
This book is the whole reason I started reading the Vorkosigan saga. I read somewhere a glowing review of it as a comedy of manners that just happens to be set on another planet.
And oh my goodness, it is. It's up there with P. G. Wodehouse when it comes to laugh-out-loud awkward hilarity. And I do not say that lightly. This is a book I keep on my Kindle so that I can read that dinner party scene whenever I need a little pick me up. It's funny, but also human, poignant, raw, and true. And did I mention well-written?
I love Miles so much. And Cordelia. And the Koudelka girls. And Pym. And Lois McMaster Bujold for giving the world, and me, this book, which I treasure.(less)