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StoneWolf

Books 'n Stuff

The Fold

The Fold: A Novel - Peter Clines

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.

It was brought to my attention...

...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.

Contact

Contact - Carl Sagan

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

(I did find the part with the Machine when they finally get it going to be pretty neat)

(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

On the Steel Breeze

By Alastair Reynolds On the Steel Breeze - Alastair Reynolds

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

The Fold: A Novel - Peter Clines

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.

Freakonomics

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt

Synopsis:

 

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

Reading progress update: I've read 623 out of 784 pages.

A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin

I started Clash of Kings a couple years ago after finishing Game of Thrones, but never finished it, as I didn't like the way the book was going. Its considerably slower than GoT was, and the summer weather here doesn't help, but I think I'm just about caught up to where I was at with it. It will be a welcome thing when I do; I'm tired of retreading over the plot.

New followers

Welcome!

 

I've acquired a fair sized number of new followers today, which is unusual for me, so I thought I would write a post and introduce this blog.

 

Epic Reads Blog is (mostly) for epic reads. Internet epic that is. The internet version of the word is difficult to define and doesn't really fit into any particular genre, so I just set it as something approximating 'totally badass!'

 

Unfortunately that isn't something that slotted to any particular genre, and it is difficult to pick out which books will be a good fit for the blog and which one's aren't. More often than not the theme of this blog is more a review of what is NOT epic. There are the easy one's to pick out of course; Tolkien, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin all very much come to mind when I think epic, but it can't all be that way sadly :(

 

Generally on this blog, I read sci-fi, with a bit of fantasy here and there. I'm also known to dive into classic literature from time to time and pretty much anything else that strikes my fancy, although its mostly sci-fi and fantasy.

 

I have been wanting to do more with this blog, however, being that I don't have an at home internet connection. I mostly write from internet cafes and free wifi points. The point being that its not quite as active as I'd like, but there's not much I can do about it right now. However, I do have some ideas about how to make it more active when things change. For example, for Veteran's Day or Memorial Day some year, I would like to do a lead up of biography posts of Medal of Honor recipients (cause honestly, if you read the citations nothing says badass more than some of these guys), but I just don't see it in the cards right now.

 

And finally I make it a point to follow everyone who follows me. I don't keep company with alot of other readers offline, so I don't have alot of other people I know on here. It can be hard to get people you don't know, interested in your blog and I always appreciate it when I get new followers. Thus I consider it a courtesy to follow people who follow me. Community building and all.

 

Unfortunately, at this particular wifi point some of your pages have been blocked for whatever reason, (curse words or some such probably; I don't care, but the library apparently does; btw I'm looking at you E.), so I'm going to have to add some people the next time I'm at a less restricted hotspot.

 

Anyway, thank you all, for following reading my reviews :)

The Prophet

The Prophet - Kahlil Gibran

Synopsis: A holy man of some sort, due to depart on a boat shortly, dispenses wisdom to townsfolk gathered to see him off on topics such as love, religion, beauty, and death among others.

 

This is Kahlil Gibran's best known work, and despite being so short (readable in about 1 - 2 hours) its very intense. Its the sort of book that if if you want to understand any of it, you have to slow down and read it carefully and think about what your reading.

 

He's very prosaic with his writing, there's a lot of old school classical charm to it, but the real value here is both what he says and doesn't say.

 

"And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds it's morning and is refreshed."

A Deepness in the Sky

A Deepness in the Sky - Vernor Vinge

Synopsis: Several thousand years in the future humanity has colonized large parts of the galaxy, but has never encountered another sentient, starfaring race. Now two civilizations race to explore a galactic anomaly, a mysterious star that shuts itself off for every 215 out of 250 years, and to make first contact with the inhabitants of the lone planet orbiting it.

 

But these two groups have very different goals and reasons for making first contact...

 

I felt like this book had a lot of potential, but that some of it was ultimately a let down. Instead of a story filled with action gratifying the more obvious plot paths, we're given something much more subtle and deep, but also a lot slower.

 

On one side of the story we're given a slow, methodical, revolution centered on subterfuge. The other plot line revolves around the planet's inhabitants as the book introduces alien characters and sits with them for generations.

 

While I don't think it's 4 star material, Vinge obviously put a lot of thought into character development here, as many of them are sincerely likeable, while others are very effective villains. While she isn't seen much in the book Honoured Pedure in particular struck me as a great embodiment of rightwing conservative villainy.

 

One other thing to note, Vinge appears to be making a very, very subtle play at...something. In the context of the novel inhabitants of the planet spend most of their time in a kind of biological cryostasis, only being awake an involved with the world around them for the 35 years out 250 that their sun is active. Conservative members of the population dominate the planet, and believe that their young should be born and raised in a rigid alignment with that cycle. There's some stuff about souls and what not.

 

The human characters in the book regard these notions as bizarre, the same way an alien race looking at Earth might say "Half of you get your panties in a knot over gay people? Wtf" or "You believe in souls ahahahahahaha".

 

All in all an enjoyable read, but the ending dragged on and on.

 

General rating: 3 1/2

Epic rating: 3 1/2

The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

Synopsis: Robert Langdon chases down another ancient mystery.

 

I'm gonna say it right now, Dan Brown: turds need to stay in the toilet; not be fished out, bound into hardcover books and be sold at exorbitant prices. I don't like to DNF. I avoid doing that as much as I can. But this book seriously tested that resolve.

 

The Davinci Code was a good read, I'll admit that. But the truth is Brown got lucky. He won the writer's lottery and that's a fact. Whether or not you think he plagiarized Holy Blood, Holy Grail he certainly hit the jackpot with it.

 

But like many writers or artists lacking real creative ability, Dan Brown has attempted to recreate his success with the Da Vinci Code...by rewriting The Da Vinci Code all over again. It's literally the same story. Same protagonist, Robert Langdon, there's a crazy fanatic who happens to look really weird, a woman who follows Langdon around, a bunch of secrets, and an ancient organization... Langdon runs all over the place getting chased by the CIA and a tattooed crazy person.

 

The differences are that instead of Paris or the Vatican this time its Washington D.C. and Brown has swapped in Freemasonry for the Vatican or whatever it was in the last book. In addition we also have hokey pseudoscience Noetics, which Brown appears to be a big fan of taking a major, though pretty unnecessary, role within the book.

 

The twists were a mixture...one was good, but not a huge shocker either. The other one was so lame that it almost caused me to DNF on the spot. The book's ultimate twist in the last 30 or 40 pages, I also found pretty lame for a thriller. It would have felt much more at home in a work of liberal theology or philosophy.

 

In terms of epic, it does do some things right. It was a page turner alright, if only to be done with the whole thing. Some of the mysteries and questions with the plot seriously contributed to that, but I felt they were ultimately a let down when they were answered.

 

On the whole I hated this book immensely. The uncreative, retrodden plot, mediocre characters (apart from the bad guy who was somewhat interesting), pointless agenda laden advertisement of bullshit pseudoscience, and shitty twists all made me hate this book. God help me if I ever find myself wanting to read Dan Brown again after this.

 

General rating: 1 1/2

Epic: 2

The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman

Synopsis: Lyra and Will reunite with two tiny spies and make their way to the land of the dead. Lord Asriel fights his war against The Authority. Miss Malone constructs an amber spyglass to see Dust and is hunted by an assassin from Lyra's world.

 

There comes every once in awhile a book that can really move you. A book thats packed with emotion, and depth, and so much epic drama that it just makes you want to stand and applaud. Or cheer. Books like that are the reason we do what we do. They keep us slogging through the latest Clive Cussler offering of the month or James Patterson or putting up with Anne Rice and all her crap. We do it because we're looking for books like that. Books like that are why we read.

 

The Amber Spyglass, really the whole trilogy, is THAT book(s). This was a moving end to a trilogy with characters I both loved and hated (in a good way). There were tears. I'm not a teary kind of person.

 

And its definitely epic, too. A journey across worlds into the land of the dead and back to challenge the highest of powers. This is a trilogy to be read.

 

 

 

General rating: 5

Epic rating: 4 1/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Age of Zeus

The Age of Zeus - James Lovegrove

Synopsis: Greek gods (Zeus, Apollo, Hades, etc.) return to the world and take it over, claiming to be restorers of peace and order. Nations are cutting defense spending, while increasing education and science funding. Crime is at an all time low and nations no longer war with each other. But the gods are tyrannical, genocidal despots, slaughtering all opposition, peaceful or not, to their rule. A small group, aided by highpowered battlesuits and advanced weaponry, challenges these gods and their mythological monsters.

 

Age of Zeus is a pretty straight forward story. There aren't to many twists and turns and the one's that are there aren't terribly surprising. And the moralizing that occurs in a couple parts of it is just plain irritating.

 

Our protagonist is Sam Akehurst, who as a character is well developed, but she's probably the only character that gets that treatment. The rest of the cast is mostly just glossed over. Little details are given to several of them, but most of them just felt underdeveloped.

 

The other thing I'd complain about are the little details. Lovegrove probably could have spent a little more time consulting with a military specialist about some this stuff. Sam leads the group, but she never really feels like a leader for example. The character Landesman is the bankroll, the money, for the groups operations and throughout the book he gives most of the orders. There are other details that are irksome too. Like don't sleep with your teammates.

 

I would have also liked to see a little more focus on the tech. Thee battlesuits were cool, but they too felt a little glossed over.

 

To sum it up this could have been a really epic book with a great premise, but it left me feeling a little underdone.

 

General and epic rating both: ***

The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman

Synopsis: Lyra enters a new world, Cittagazze, and meets an ally from another world beyond that. Together they brave soul eating spectres and the nakedly evil ambitions of Mrs Coulter as they unravel the mystery of Dust.

 

The Subtle Knife is the second book of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. As before the book is full of mysteries and questions. Somehow even after I had finished the book and all the questions I had had about what was going on had been answered I still felt like there were answers to be had. To be able to infuse a story with this kind of enduring mystery is a rare talent indeed. Pullman is a master of the pen.

 

Its epic in its size and scope. Two children on a journey spanning worlds to challenge the highest of powers...the potential here is immense and so far it doesn't disappoint.

 

 

 

 

General rating: 4 1/2

Epic rating: 4 1/2