Synopsis: aSoIaF (ugh, what an awful acronym) starts out revolving around the stories of the Stark family, eventually branching out to encompass other storylines as well. I really can't go into the details of the plot to much, because the spoilers start early on, but Lord Eddard Stark is chosen to become the king's Hand (basically an advisor + guy who manages everything) of the kingdom of Westeros. From there the plot explodes into a plethora of monsters, magic, spies, Machiavellian scheming, wars, betrayals, conspiracies, and other juicy stuff.
Review: This is a tough one to review. Everyone has likely either read these books already (perhaps multiple times) or watched the tv show, or at least heard everything from their friends. So it is a little tough to write a review with anything that hasn't been said before. That said I'll give it a shot.
George R.R. Martin (G.R.R.M. for brevity's sake) is a unique writer in the way he does things. I started Game of Thrones (GoT) loving it, got all the way through A Clash of Kings (aCoK) and A Storm of Swords (aSoS) still loving it, loved it a little less by A Feast For Crows (aFfC), and finally ready to read something else by A Dance With Dragons (aDwD), because 2000 pages of Westeros has proved to be a bit much for me. Not that I'm not still on board with this series, I just need a break for awhile.
The books are seemingly written to defy cliques wherever it can spot them. What you expect to happen doesn't happen, and characters you like or dislike will die; often abruptly when they do. Each book is only set on a very, very vague kind of arc, although they don't really seem to have their own flavors. GoT for example, is all about political scheming, and aCoK and aSoS are about the wars that follow this scheming, while aFfC and aDwD deal with the aftermath and cleanup of said wars. The plotline wanders up to and through all these arcs. It is extremely difficult to pin down where, if anywhere, it is going. The idea behind the plotlines seems to be that the journey is way more interesting than whatever the destination is. The one constant theme is that Westeros is brutal, unforgiving and treacherous.
The characters are a huge bright spot in this series. There are a wide variety of them, and your going to love some of them (and cry if and when they die), and hate others (and cheer when they go). There's a magnanimous lord with a difficult job to do, a good natured king who just wants to drink and party, a villainous noble scheming from the shadows, a brash knight with an ugly secret, a dwarf who compensates for his physical inabilities with intelligence and charisma (I drink and I know things), and a mentally challenged stableboy who can only say his name (HODOR). This is really only scratching the surface as G.R.R.M. has really tried to stuff the cast with memorable characters.
The most important takeaway from this review, however, is that aSoIaF is brutal. G.R.R.M. doesn't believe in censorship; there are sex scenes and graphic violence. He doesn't write to make things more palatable for his readers, instead he tries to model attitudes that might be common in a more primitive or medieval society. I'm the sort of person who enjoys this sort of open honesty, regardless of how I feel about the things described, but I understand how other people may not be onboard with it.
Summary: I loved these books, but I can see if they don't go well with other people. Most likely however, these books are on a track to be considered classics on par with Tolkien's Middle-earth.
I usually mostly read a chapter or two when I go to donate plasma, twice a week so it can take me awhile to get through books. This one has been going faster, however, and I'm very happy about that.
I'm not at all liking this one. If your familiar with Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones), you're aware that there are quite a few plot lines being developed and played out side by side in each book. In A Feast For Crows this becomes annoying as many of them have been deliberately left out of the book. Most of my favorites in fact. We briefly get a Sam chapter on the wall near the beginning, which is eventually followed by another Sam chapter (not on the wall). Arya gets similar treatment along with Sansa. Tyrion, Daenerys, and Davos appear to be completely absent so far, with the bulk of the chapters going to Cersei, Jaime and Brienne. The Ironborn plotline also significantly expands adding new characters, but little interest so far. An even more boring plotline focusing on events in Dorne is also introduced.
I think this one is going fast, because I just want to get through it and get back to the stuff I like in the next book.
Synopsis: On the eve of an interstellar apocalypse, 7 pilgrims journey to the planet Hyperion, to meet the Shrike; a creature that moves backward in time and kills the pilgrims who seek it. On their journey each one tells their story of what brought them to that point.
I have mixed feelings about this book. Its slow going, and most of the stories take awhile to get going. There's very little action of any sort, and the deeper concepts may fly over some heads. It has some good twists, however, and the characters are filled out well. My main gripe with it has been that it ends without resolving the major plot points. I'm assuming this will be fixed in the sequel (The Fall of Hyperion), but I still found it rather annoying.
Rating *** 1/2
Synopsis: Ged is a young wizard of great potential, but reckless and careless for power. When he unleashes a shadow into the world of Earthsea it seeks to consume and possess him. To defeat it he must learn its name, and face it.
I first read this book as a teenager, probably twenty years ago. Back then I didn't understand its messages and I found it quite boring (I didn't like to DNF back then either, and I ended reading all four books in the series that were published at the time).
Reading it today, I find it a bit easier. I can still see why I thought it was boring, but its message of caution against recklessness and facing your enemies rings a lot more easily with me today.
I liked the imagery. Earthsea is a watery world made up of islands and sea and more than a little bit of mystery, and Ursula Le Guin really paints a picture of a dark and shadowed world. I kept wondering about many of the places she kept referencing, but much of it was shrouded away from view.
I've got the next book Tombs of Atuan on my shelf already and its short so I may just knock it out real quick. The Lord of the Rings is also on my agenda, however, and thats likely to suck up quite a bit of my reading time for awhile (this edition gave me the entire trilogy in one glorious bind; the forward says that its not actually a trilogy at all, just that its often sold as one).
Anyway, A Wizard of Earthsea:
General rating: *** 1/2
Epic rating: ****
Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins, a comfort loving creature of the land of Middle-Earth, is recruited by the wizard Gandalf to help a group of dwarves defeat a dragon and recover their homeland/a bunch of treasure.
Look if you haven't read this book, seen the movies, or have some idea whats going on you've found a mighty big rock to live under. The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, are probably some of the most amazingly epic adventure stories ever written. I am most certainly not kidding.
I have a long history with this book. At about 6 or so I remember mom getting the animated movie from the library. Totally hooked, but I had no idea what it was. A few years later I spent a night at a friend's house and spent all night reading his Hobbit graphic novel, but I never thought to look at the title. It wasn't for a few more years that I finally figured out what I was reading.
I read the book again in highschool, and at least a couple times since then. Love it. Its a classic beyond compare, probably my favorite book of all time.
Tolkien writes with an imagery that I rarely see elsewhere. His style is faintly British though it never goes to far. His words evoke a vision of a world that is both wild and beautiful.
One of my favorite things about The Hobbit is Bilbo's personal journey. It is made explicitly clear that hobbits are creatures of comfort. Bilbo likes a warm cozy home, good food, and a friend or two over for tea on occasion. He doesn't like adventure. Adventures are nasty things that make one late for dinner. But then he's roped into one by a mysterious wizard and a group of homeless dwarves.
As the quest to reach the Lonely Mountain and Smaug progresses, Bilbo changes from a comfort loving homebody to a capable burglar that the party consistently relies on. He also acquires a useful piece of jewelry which will be the centerpiece of the next series of books in the land of Middle-Earth...
For a book this special, I felt my collection need something a little...extra. A paperback is simply not good enough. A little extra got me a leather bound copy, gold trimmed pages, and complete with some very nice illustrations done by Tolkien for the original. It was money well spent.
General rating: *****
Edit: For some reason it keeps turning all the photos I took sideways.
I've been out for some time, been very slow reading (I should have finished both of these books a month ago), but I've been taking a break. I am now returned, to read and review, again.
The Hobbit will be finished shortly (probably tomorrow night, because although there isn't much left, its late and I have to work at 6 am). I still have no idea how to review a book like this. Everyone has read it, or seen the movies. I'm obviously not shining any real light on a new perspective of this book, but I will attempt a review anyway.
I'm about halfway into my other book (which should take me much less time to finish). If anybody has been wondering where I've gone to, my apologies.
I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers. -Kahlil Gibran
Synopsis: Three novellas stories of how minor gods interact with humanity.
Age of Anansi: The African trickster god, Anansi, recruits a vessel to ride along on for a convention of trickster gods, all of whom are competing for trickster bragging rights.
Age of Satan: While attending a boarding school, Guy Lucas is bullied and abused. A fellow classmate persuades him to perform a Black Mass, after which he is hounded for years by the powers of darkness.
Age of Gaia: Barnaby Pollard is a super rich energy mogul...and then he meets the woman of his dreams. And nightmares.
I was seriously not impressed with most of this. Age of Anansi felt exactly like Lovegrove read American Gods (Neil Gaiman) and thought "I think I can do this better." No. No you didn't. The ending was a serious disappointment as well. It wasn't tricky or smart, it was just sad.
Age of Satan: It starts out promising, there's a point about a third of the way in that is just hella dark, but it never builds on it. In fact it completely drops off after that. By the end of the book it reads like an ad for atheistic Satanism, which I'm just not down with. I'm a softcore atheist and I've never seen the need to mix satanic bs or philosophy in with it. So bad ending, as well.
Age of Gaia: This was the only one of the three that I came close to liking. It wasn't particularly engaging, the protagonist is kind of arrogant, abit of an asshole, but the book also tries to paint a victim perspective on him, which I found novel. I liked the ending which turned the tables around in an interesting way.
I wasn't terribly impressed with The Age of Zeus, the first book of Lovegrove's that I read, I probably shouldn't have tried Age of Godpunk. I do like the premise though, I guess thats what keeps drawing me back, even if the execution is crap.
Synopsis: A really smart guy, who never forgets anything, is hired to evaluate a research project in the desert for safety.
I really liked this book. I had a good guess going in where the story was going to go and it more or less went in that direction. Its hard to say what I really liked about this. Its good at being a page tuner, and the concepts are fairly creative (though it has a lot of parallels with Stargate; something even the story itself notes). The protagonist, Mike, seems a bit generic, though I did think a number of the support characters were well developed.
I'd happily read a sequel to this, and the end is clearly set up for it, so its likely we'll see one sooner or later.
...that I don't really have much in the way of female authors on my bookshelf. Margeret Weiss is up there with the Dragonlance stuf but she's paired up with Tracy Hickman anyway, and there's really no one else. So my first thought was a name I swear I'd heard on a podcast, but who turned out to be a researcher for something post-Holocaust non-fiction. Nope.
So I made a trip to the bookstore and finding something suitable proved in fact much more difficult than I anticipated. Most everything I saw from female authors was either a) romance, or heavily leaning that way, or the sort of throwaway novels I try to stay away from. My immediate thought was Ann McCaffrey, or possibly Mercedes Lackey. McCaffrey's old Pern novels would probably fit the bill fine amd Mercedes Lackey is a good standby as well. But after some thought I realized who fits the bill better than anyone else: the matriarchal, reigning queen of fantasy Ursala Leguin.
So that said I picked up A Wizard of Earthsea. I considered The Left Hand of Darkness, but it was tradepaper and I don't want to spend the extra bit of money. Also, I have the third book in the Earthsea series already and I'm looking to eventually read the rest.
Synopsis: A radio astronomer at a remote observatory makes a discovery of alien proportions.
I wrote out a whole review about this book....and then my connection gave out when I hit post...because I'm cabled in tonight and FUCK. So I'm rewriting this again and trying to figure out what I wrote.
Anyway, Contact does not have a problem with pacing. It's slow and steady, almost from start to finish. And when I say slow, I mean slllllllooooowwwwww. Your gonna hear about everything you have no interest in. This is includes the protagonist's childhood, school life, college days, relationships with friends, colleagues and her love life. Also religion. Your gonna hear about religion, more specifically about how science attempts to deal with it.
Basically, everything your not interested in while the plot line that is interesting plays out.
Thats Sagan's game here. He's written about an amazing scientific discovery and he's going to go through everything that surrounds it. Whats more he's not pulling any punches to make it more interesting. The book is slow, stodgy and generally abit dull(show spoiler)
It's this way because thats how the scientific process is. While scientific discoveries may be fascinating, or lead to other things that are, the scientific process itself is often tedious, slow and dull. Sagan was writing this to be true to science and thats very clear. But if it was ever meant to make it interesting to anyone, it's a failure.
The other thing is that he puts forth several agendas in the book. These include SCIENCE IS AWESOME! and women's rights to later on trying to address the gap between science and religion. I don't mind any of these agenda's, but I would have appreciated it he would have kept them out of the fiction.
General rating: 3 1/2
Epic rating: 1
Synopsis: On the Steel Breeze is the second book of Alastair Reynolds' Poseidon's Children trilogy. Geoffrey, the protagonist from the first book, Blue Remembered Earth, is gone. Referenced, not seen. Humanity has a new version of physics they are messing around with (disastrously) and have launched a series of huge spaceships towards the planet Crucible with the aim of exploring and colonizing it. Chiku, our new protagonist and apparently the last of the Akinya bloodline, has split herself into three people via cloning technology. Each clone is identical and their memories have been synced so that no one can tell who the original is. Chiku Yellow (they all have colors to differentiate them) stays on earth, Chiku Green goes on the push to Crucible, and Chiku Red is sent on a mission to deep space to discover what happened to their great grandmother Eunice Akinya.
Reynolds doesn't seem to be very good at pacing. Much of this book was fairly slow. Its muddling around, its not totally clear whats going on, and I think he was trying to use some sort of adventure-mystery kind of thing to lead up to the more interesting stuff. I don't really think it worked. Arachne wasn't really a huge surprise, and neither was she a particularly great villain. An almost sympathetic villain, actually, and thats not a good thing. Good villains usually need to be someone I can actively hate on.
About two-thirds of the way through the book, the pace picks up considerably, things get interesting and I liked the book alot more after that. It jusst takes about 300 pages or so to get there.
Another thing to mention is that Reynolds apparently doesn't like elderly people. In the future everyone routinely gets a kind of 'prolongation therapy'. People regularly live to 300 or more years old. One character is denied this therapy as punishment for a crime, so he is doomed to grow old. The character whines a number of times about how he is becoming a 'horror', 'awful', and my favorite 'walking nightmare'. Really? The character is getting old Reynolds, he's not changing into Cthulu.
OtSB is a little more grimdark than BRE was, and thats where Reynolds really shines, so I can say I like it better than BRE. Its not terribly epic, however. 3 stars at best for epic.
General rating: 3 1/2
Epic rating: 3
Holy crap this book has grabbed me like nothing has in a while. It hasn't been exactly what I expected, but its still been a hell of a page turner.
Look your guess is as good as mine as to what this book is about. It doesn't have much of a unifying theme (even the authors say that), so I'm kinda at a loss to say what it is about exactly.
I'm not really sure what to say about this book. An economist who doesn't know anything about economics (he says this in the introduction) takes questions, pulls them apart, and analyzes data troves to find answers that seem unrelated. The best I can figure is that he's a pattern analyst with an unusual way of looking at data. Between each chapter there are short excerpts from a New York Times article written by the book's other author mostly about how great/brilliant the first author is. *headscratch*
That said he does pose interesting discussions on several different oddball topics. The only unified theme to the book, however, seems to be turning conventional wisdom on it's head.
General rating: 3 1/2