A cursed royal family is aided by a damaged, unwitting courier of the gods' will in this story centered on a religion defined by changing seasons andA cursed royal family is aided by a damaged, unwitting courier of the gods' will in this story centered on a religion defined by changing seasons and divine intervention.
The author succeeds in making the spiritual system beautiful, brutal, charming and grotesque depending on particular situations.
The male protagonist is pitiable but likable. The royesse (like a princess) he aids is non-traditionally politically savvy, pragmatic and commanding, traits that grow believably over the course of the book. The chancellor and his slimy brother who serve as the closest approximation to antagonists are distasteful but not as nuanced as I'd like. They are among the book's few weaknesses.
The only other weakness that bothered me was the over-long ending, which seemed to include too much exposition and too little, well, poetry after the climax. It felt like the book wasn't winding down as it should have been.
One strength is the book's occasional bits of horrific creepy-ness. I won't spoil those for you....more
This thriller intelligently portrays an artistic captive's attempts to escape her insipid but obsessive captor.
The captor, Frederick, is an insect coThis thriller intelligently portrays an artistic captive's attempts to escape her insipid but obsessive captor.
The captor, Frederick, is an insect collector and clerk who gives the impression of banality and appears to lack original, creative thought, expressing mostly practicality, politeness and self pitying loneliness. He obsesses over the woman he kidnaps, Miranda, at first suveiling her systematically from a distance -- behavior that evolves into horrid action made more believable and worse by Frederick's creepily innocent inner monologue.
I gave this book five stars, in part, because of the way Frederick's apparent polite restraint -- in action and thought -- and his sheer blandness and his discomfort with violence and sex allow him to imprison a woman and consider it an act of decency. Right up to chloroforming Miranda, he doesn't seem to believe that he'll actually do it. He's as flustered as anyone else.
Miranda's an early-20s art student confusedly drawn to a male artist old enough to be her father. The book eventually shifts to her perspective and describes this male artist, G.P. (George... something - I forgot).
Another reason I gave the book five stars: Miranda seems very intelligent in the way of creativity and perhaps philosophy. However, she assigns G.P. a great deal more importance than I can, as a relatively objective observer. She sees G.P. as the opposite of Frederick -- creative and original, in tune with what is most alive and unconcerned with how he is viewed, while Frederick the uncreative collector renders his favorite objects dead and inert and pretends to polite refinement as much as his lacking education allows.
However, whether the writer intended it or not, I see G.P. as pretentious in his own way, aberrant in his own way and objectifying of Miranda in his own way -- closer to Frederick than Miranda seems to understand. Also, G.P. womanizes but seems to struggle with love, while Frederick loves obsessively but struggles with physical attraction. There, I do find them opposite but similar in their imbalance.
I don't like either of them. But the fact that they both disgusted me kept me reading. The sheer disgust of the plot kept me reading. I rarely felt like stopping. I read this in a day and a half....more
It's hard to know what to say, other than: Yes this feels like Jeff Vandermeer wrote it -- with the type of creeping biological dread that made "CityIt's hard to know what to say, other than: Yes this feels like Jeff Vandermeer wrote it -- with the type of creeping biological dread that made "City of Saints and Madmen" so horrifying.
In "Annihilation," group expeditions try to explore an ecologically strange place called Area X and they either disappear or become transformed in uncanny ways.
It was hard to stop reading, and it was effectively creepy. My only struggle was that the impressionistic vagueness of the writing -- so effective for creepiness -- wasn't resolved with a concrete or complete enough ending for my tastes.
I guess I can uselessly hope the other Southern Reach books might resolve with more clarity.
Nonetheless, this initial book was creep-tastic....more
This Victorian-era fiction describes how a taxonomy-nerd professor, his assistant and a manly harpooner become prisoners on a secret submarine too tecThis Victorian-era fiction describes how a taxonomy-nerd professor, his assistant and a manly harpooner become prisoners on a secret submarine too technologically advanced for its 1860s existence.
The sub -- named the "Nautilus" -- is the brainchild and residence of Captain Nemo, who is part scientist and part vigilante for mysterious reasons. Professor Aronnax, the protagonist, and Captain Nemo get along swimmingly (or... sub-limely) at times, due to their mutual nerdy-ness and the fact that Nemo can access the ocean in ways that no one else can. Aronnax's assistant Conseil is strangely passive and unflappable, while harpooner Ned Land wants to stab marine mammals and get off the submarine. A lot.
The Nautilus travels all over the world, occasionally into really inadvisable situations that made me very nervous. The voyage seems aimless at times, but all that traveling allows author Jules Verne to discuss more marine species than you've probably ever heard of. Sometimes that's interesting (when he describes their features) and other times it's irritating (when he lists off scientific names with no visual description or uses outdated scientific terms that are gratingly close to, but different from, the names of modern taxa or are too obscure for Kindle reader to explain).
Some parts of the book are very compelling, while other parts drag and have uneven pacing. If you read to the end, you'll be rewarded with a bunch of rapid-fire happenings. Pacing aside, the four main characters were all interesting, and the Nautilus was cleverly envisioned by Verne. As the sub's capabilities are described, the nerdy-ness of the writing makes me laugh -- the characters passionately exclaim about topics like how many atmospheres of pressure they just calculated.
Of course, Captain Nemo is the strongest reason I enjoyed this book. I have a brain crush on the man. The circumstances that drove him to his lifestyle are sad, but they have surely happened to many. Yet no one else is driven by tragic circumstances to build a nearly-impregnable submarine (containing a veritable museum... and a pipe organ -- good God, it's astounding) and become a savant-level explorer who finds all the coolest things and tells no one but his crew, with whom he speaks a secret language. Everybody has problems, but nobody's problems turn them into THAT. Except Captain Nemo. The magnificent freak.
Last note: The book feels more straightforward than some -- more factual, less flowery. However, I prefer to think that the facts (or imagined sci-fi facts) that the author chooses to present are selected for good and sometimes symbolic reasons. What does it signify that Nemo knows of a clam with a pearl the size of a coconut, but he leaves the clam alone and visits occasionally as the pearl grows? What does it signify that he likes filter-feeding baleen whales but smashes the shit out of some predatory, toothed whales?
I don't know. He's not about to tell you, either....more
This book takes on the intimidating task of trying to combine technological sci-fi with fantasy -- not in some primitive, post-apocalyptic world, butThis book takes on the intimidating task of trying to combine technological sci-fi with fantasy -- not in some primitive, post-apocalyptic world, but rather in an advanced, pre-apocalyptic world.
The planet is becoming uninhabitable and the two main characters -- slightly trope-y science guy and magic girl -- each approach ecological and societal decline from a different angle, moving in and out of friendship and enmity as they grow up.
Magic here represents nature while science/technology represents human will to shape an accommodating environment.
The premise is good and timely while the plot is interesting, with one or two moments that are even disturbing (especially when the magic protagonist learns the specifics of a spell called "the unraveling" meant as a last resort for population control).
The book is sometimes tonally jarring because it has some very adult content along with some very childish moments. Some of this is due to the fact that the characters start as children and grow up. It's understandable but feels uneven to me.
I have to admit that, the entire time, I was skeptical that the types of sci-fi and fantasy contained here could really mix. The result did not feel seamless to me, but I think that's due to the sheer level of challenge rather then the author's ability. For something this difficult, I think the author did well.
Part of the reason I gave four stars, not five, is that the book is driven by premise, ideas, and the movement of the plot, but the individual characters did not thrill me. The plot and ideas were more memorable than the people. I prefer character-driven fiction. ...more
This is an adorable and surprisingly educational fiction book about my favorite holiday, Halloween. A bunch of kids go on a trippy journey through fanThis is an adorable and surprisingly educational fiction book about my favorite holiday, Halloween. A bunch of kids go on a trippy journey through fantastical versions of historical/cultural scenes that represent roots of Halloween. They're trying to follow the chaotic path of their friend who appears to be dying and needs help. They're guided by a creepy specter who seems pretty jolly about teaching history, with one central theme: Humans do a lot of weird things because they're afraid to die.
(It so happens that I recently finished reading "Notre-Dame de Paris," aka "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," so when a scene in "The Halloween Tree" centered its fantasy-warped lessons on that cathedral, I giggled like that was written just for me -- notwithstanding the book's original publication before I was born. Apparently, in all of Victor Hugo's rambling about architecture, he never fully drove home how much weird sh** is sculpted on Notre Dame.)...more