I really, really loved this one. It's not the best book I've read but it is one of the most entertaining. For anyone who was born in the 70s or 80s, g...moreI really, really loved this one. It's not the best book I've read but it is one of the most entertaining. For anyone who was born in the 70s or 80s, grew up playing video games and is a present day geek - this book is a love letter to you and your culture. I don't know how wide its appeal would be beyond those demographics, but for those of us who fit them it's a home run.
There are plenty of things I could nitpick. The plot is pretty straightforward. A couple of the characters, especially the villains, are pretty one dimensional. But honestly, even though I was aware of those problems throughout the entire read, I didn't care a bit. The book is so relentlessly entertaining that it more than overcomes its minor problems.
If you fit the demographics I described, do yourself a favor and pick this one up now. You won't be disappointed. (less)
As I read more of PKD's novels, one of the things I appreciate is his ability to present familiar ideas in new ways. In general, his works have a pret...moreAs I read more of PKD's novels, one of the things I appreciate is his ability to present familiar ideas in new ways. In general, his works have a pretty standard set of themes - paranoia, pessimistic vision of the future, blurred reality, precognition, etc.
The Penultimate Truth is no exception but despite the familiar territory nothing here feels redundant. I especially loved the ending on this one. It's probably one of his happier endings but this being PKD there are some strong hints it won't stay that way for long. (less)
This is one of the more enjoyable Philip K. Dick books I've read, and, by his standards, a fairly accessible one. This is one where the less you know...moreThis is one of the more enjoyable Philip K. Dick books I've read, and, by his standards, a fairly accessible one. This is one where the less you know going in, the better. Then again, even if you do read about it before hand, there are more than enough twists, especially in the last chapter, to keep you surprised throughout (less)
If Philip K. Dick had been a writer for The Wire, the result would probably have been something along the lines of A Scanner Darkly. This is one his l...moreIf Philip K. Dick had been a writer for The Wire, the result would probably have been something along the lines of A Scanner Darkly. This is one his least sci-fi infused works and contains a fair amount of autobiographical material. Nevertheless, Dick works in his common themes of paranoia, reality and identity.
What sets this volume apart is that despite its focus on the drug culture, it doesn't take a stance on the war on drugs. For the most part, it is descriptive rather than editorial. That allows Dick to draw you into the dystopian world he's created and make you empathize with his characters regardless of your opinion of their actions.
A Scanner Darkly is a great read and one of the finest Philip K. Dick novels I've read thus far. (less)
Even by Christopher Priest standards this one is tough to review. On the one hand, it's a book you don't want to know too much about going in as the p...moreEven by Christopher Priest standards this one is tough to review. On the one hand, it's a book you don't want to know too much about going in as the process of discovery is a large part of its greatness. On the other, without some word of explanation about what you're reading potential readers, especially those new to Priest, may be turned off.
Perhaps the best thing to say is that whether you're a veteran to Priest's work or a newcomer, it's imperative to go into The Islanders with an open mind. Part of the fun with Priest's work, especially in this case, is figuring out what exactly it is you're reading. This isn't a traditional novel by any stretch of the imagination, in fact it might not be a novel at all. Even after finishing it, I'm not remotely sure how to classify it.
If that sounds cryptic it's only because this labyrinthine book demands a cryptic description. What I can say is that this book is by turns beautiful, brilliant, perplexing and fascinating. As I said before, go in with an open mind. Pay VERY close attention, especially to names. You may not ever be quite sure what it is you're reading, but hopefully you'll come away enjoying The Islanders as much as I did.(less)
The Separation is an extraordinary work of fiction, a modern classic and easily one of the finest novels I've ever read. Although Christopher Priest's...moreThe Separation is an extraordinary work of fiction, a modern classic and easily one of the finest novels I've ever read. Although Christopher Priest's prose is fairly straightforward, this isn't an easy novel. It's themes are challenging and it posses a labyrinthine structure. I suspect that challenging nature of the novel is what accounts for many of the one or two star reviews. This isn't for the faint of heart or those who thrive on what passes for mainstream, popular fiction.
I'm not going to describe much of the plot and I'd discourage anyone thinking of reading the book from reading more than a cursory description of the novel. This is one where the less you know going in, the better. All you need to know is that it's an alternate history set during World War 2. Beyond that, just let the book envelope you.
I'm going to touch on a few of the themes in the novel. I won't saying anything with more than mild spoilers but before you click on the spoiler text below, consider yourself warned.
(view spoiler)[ The Separation works on a multitude of levels. One reading isn't nearly enough to grasp the plethora of possible readings the story presents. Rather than try and analyze the book, let me just touch on a few of the themes that struck me from the book.
1. The Separation works as a commentary on the fluid nature of identity. There are doubts throughout the book about who is really who they say they are and even about who is telling the story in the first place.
2. Building on that first theme, the books works as an exploration of reality and the way identity impacts how we view reality. Again, the structure of the book lends itself to this brilliantly. What you think is a framing device for the main part of the story may in fact be just the opposite - a hallucination taking place within the story itself. On the other hand, the main story may just be a clever ruse by the characters within the "framing story." Or, if both the frame and the story are true, we're left to wonder what parts of the main plot actually happened, which were made up, which were imagined. Do we ever actually reach the top layer of reality in the story? Is it even relevant whether or not we do? In this theme, The Separation reminded me of Inception. In both stories, we're never quite sure what is and isn't real. We're also challenged to ask ourselves if it really matters.
3. The book works as a commentary on the chaos and confusion of war. I remember reading a remark by Dan Simmons once where he said that if you were to gather all the different accounts of World War 2 and put them together, you'd be left with endless amounts of contradiction and confusion. War breeds confusion. Priest is challenging how much we really can say that we know both about war and about our experiences in general.
4. The book is also a commentary on our own history and reality. There are portions where I wasn't entirely sure where the "real" history ended and the alternate history began. More astute students of WW2 would likely be able to discern the two better than I, but I believe that the confusion for most readers is intentional. It's one more layer in the puzzle Priest has crafted.
5. The book works as a commentary on our values about what is and is not a noble cause to support, who the true heroes are in WW2. You could read this as a pacifist text or as the absurd, failure of pacifism or as a commentary on the noble but ultimately untenable nature of pacifism. I don't personally know which side Priest comes down on and I'm glad for that. It makes the book far more effective (hide spoiler)]
Christopher Priest is, along with Dan Simmons, one of the greatest living novelists. Although I haven't read all of his work, this book may well be his masterpiece. It isn't for the faint of heart, but for everyone else this is a must read["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This is a tough book to review fairly. It has the unfortunate job of having to follow up the masterpiece that is A Wrinkle in Time. While it's a good...moreThis is a tough book to review fairly. It has the unfortunate job of having to follow up the masterpiece that is A Wrinkle in Time. While it's a good book in its own right, it doesn't come close to the brilliance of its predecessor.
In my review of A Wrinkle in Time, I mentioned that although I've loved that book for a very long time, I've only just now decided to read the rest of the series. At least part of my reason is that I didn't want my experience of the first book to be diminished by lesser sequels. I suppose in a sense that fear was justified, but I don't at all regret reading A Wind in the Door. It's a great read and it gives us a chance to revisit many of the same characters from the first book.
My recommendation is to view this not as a sequel to A Wrinkly in Time but as a stand-alone novel set in the same world. From that perspective, it's very satisfying and highly recommended. (less)
Yet another decent but far from great volume in Y: The Last Man. Nothing all that amazing happens in this volume. I just finished it yesterday and alr...moreYet another decent but far from great volume in Y: The Last Man. Nothing all that amazing happens in this volume. I just finished it yesterday and already I'm struggling to remember the plot details. There are a couple of cool developments, but overall nothing feels that weighty or memorable. Kind of a bit like the series as a whole(less)
I'm a huge fan of pretty much everything Dan Simmons has published and Flashback is no exception. The book is part hard boiled detective novel, part d...moreI'm a huge fan of pretty much everything Dan Simmons has published and Flashback is no exception. The book is part hard boiled detective novel, part dystopian nightmare, part Cristopher Nolan-esque sci-fi and manages to blend all those genres perfectly.
Flashback is set about 20 years in the future in which the US has undergone a major economic collapse. To add to the nation's troubles, the vast majority of its citizens are hooked on a drug called Flashback, which enables them to relive, in perfect detail, any past memory they choose. At the center of the novel is a mystery involving former Denver Police Detective Nick Bottom, himself a flashback addict, being hired to investigate the murder of a high ranking Japanese official's son.
While I wouldn't rank Flashback quite as high as my favorite Simmons' novels (Hyperion, Ilium and The Terror), it's definitely up there. The mystery elements are compelling, the payoffs are very satisfying and the future Simmons envisions is a bit too believable.
As in most of Simmons' work, there's also a lot in here that's very thought provoking. He explores the way we, in an effort to avoid pain, deny reality and in doing so forgo our responsibilities and destroy our future. It's powerful stuff and very relevant both to us individuals and to society at large.
If I have one complaint about the book it's that there are far too many scenes where characters withhold information from Nick Bottom for no other reason than that the plot isn't ready for him (or us) to know it yet. It's an obnoxious technique that far too much fiction, especially serialized tv shows (I'm looking at you LOST), is guilty of employing. It's a minor complaint that's more than made up for by the great reveals we do eventually get toward the end of the book.
One final note: Flashback currently has a 2.5 star average rating on Amazon. Reading through the negative reviews it becomes obvious that they all of have one complaint in common: the novel's politics. While I wouldn't say the novel is overly political, there are times, especially when Simmons is exploring the origins of America's collapse, where it becomes so. Simmons' slant in those sections is pretty right wing, which I guess is too much for some people to handle.
The irony of that complaint is that Flashback is based on a novella Simmons wrote about 20 years ago in his Lovedeath anthology. That novella also imagines a dystopian future resulting from economic collapse but its politics are decidedly LEFT wing, going so far as to have the main character place sole blame for the world on the shoulders of Ronald Reagan.
I understand that some people find any mention of politics distracting, but it seems to me that many of those 1 star reviews are more upset the political side Simmons comes down in the novel, rather than the mere presence of politics. I imagine that many of those reviewers would give a much higher score to the novella, even though the novel is much better written and tells a more complete and satisfying story.
All that to say don't let the negative reviews scare you away. They have nothing to say about the book itself. For anyone who is a fan of Simmons, good sci-fi or provocative fiction, Flashback is a must read. (less)
Great book. This is a rare case where the novel and movie are different but equally excellent. If you haven't read Christopher Priest you're missing o...moreGreat book. This is a rare case where the novel and movie are different but equally excellent. If you haven't read Christopher Priest you're missing out.(less)
This one gets a little slow in the middle but Reynolds makes it worthwhile with a fantastic conclusion. This is probably his most philosophical book (...moreThis one gets a little slow in the middle but Reynolds makes it worthwhile with a fantastic conclusion. This is probably his most philosophical book (a good thing in my opinion) and it continues to show his improvement with character development. (less)