Monday, August 1, 2011

Monthly report: June 2011

Because it often happens that I read a book but don't review it (or I take a long time writing a review), I've decided to start posting brief monthly reports on what I read, including a sentence or two about the book if it was not reviewed.

(Stephen Baxter)

I have mixed feelings about Flood. The idea behind it is interesting enough, but the problem is that the author didn't quite manage to get the best out of it and wrote a kind of a family drama instead. (Review upcoming.)

Inverted World (Christopher Priest)

Christopher Priest is one of my favourite authors and when I found out that this book is post-apocalyptic, there was not really a chance of me not buying and reading it ASAP. I was not disappointed; Inverted World is a captivating story with a protagonist who's just as unreliable as the protagonists of Priest's other books.

Bitter Seeds (Ian Tregillis)

Another book that was sitting on my to-buy list for years simply because it was published in hardback only. I finally had enough and ordered the damn hardcover, and I was actually really glad I did. Bitter Seeds was not quite what I expected, but it got me hooked nevertheless. I
can't wait for the sequel to come out.

Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane)

Yeah, I know I said I probably wouldn't read this one very soon, but I happened to be in the mood for something familiar. What I found out was that the movie script was very strictly following the book; although it was a really pleasant read, Shutter Island is one of those rare books that are not significantly better than their movie adaptations.

The Shrinking Man (Richard Matheson)

I adored Matheson's I Am Legend, so I naturally grabbed The Shrinking Man off the shelf as soon as I saw it in a bookstore in Belgrade. Time has not been so kind to this one, however - the idea of a tiny man was probably new back in 1956, but the novelty of it has long since worn off. Without it, the plot is not as engaging as I had hoped it would be.

Lord of the Flies (William Golding)

I probably should've read Lord of the Flies because it is, after all, a classic, but in fact I mostly read it because the back cover blurb sounded a lot like Battle Royale. :D I honestly can't say whether I liked it or not, though. I'm no good when it comes to judging such books, I'm afraid.

A Feast for Crows (George R. R. Martin)

This was just a quick re-read to catch up on everything before ADWD came out. I found out that I've forgotten quite a lot of what takes place in AFFC; even after this re-read, a lot of the details still elude me. I think it'll be time for another re-read soon. :)

Due to vacations and me moving apartments again, August's content will be posted a bit erratically, if at all. Sorry. :(

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Pile - May & June '11

The TBR pile - we all have one and it grows faster than we can read. Mine is no exception. I thought it might be interesting to round up and present all of my recent acquisitions once a month, so ... here we go.

I was late in posting The Pile for May and I didn't buy much books in June, so I decided to merge both posts.

The Deserter (Peadar Ó Guilín)

I read The Inferior when it came out back in 2007 and I remember really liking it, so when I heard that The Deserter is finally coming out I was really thrilled. Peadar was kind enough to send me a review copy, but I absolutely have to re-read The Inferior so I'll be able to fully enjoy The Deserter. Reading priority: high.

Night Work (Thomas Glavinic)

I've accidentaly stumbled across this book while browsing the Web and thought the blurb on the back sounded interesting - Night Work is a book about some guy who finds himself alone on Earth while everyone else seems to have vanished into thin air. Reading priority: medium.

The Quantum Thief (Hannu Rajaniemi)

There was a lot of buzz around Quantum Thief a while ago, with it getting nominated for Locus award for best first novel and everything. It all got me curious, so I was very happy to receive a review copy of it from Tor. Reading priority: high.

Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)

Not really speculative fiction, but even I have to take a break from time to time. :) Bought this because I wanted to buy something I usually wouldn't and I remembered a friend told me about this one. Reading priority: medium.

Pump Six and Other Stories (Paolo Bacigalupi)

No, I didn't read The Windup Girl yet. I still ordered Pump Six, just because. It's supposed to be really good and it's been on my wishlist for ages, mostly because it took so long before it was published in paperback. Reading priority: medium.

The Pile Special

I bet you know the feeling when you have a book on your TBR pile that seemingly everyone has read and praised, but you still haven't gotten around to reading it. I have plenty of those, and I will select and present one every month. My goal? To read it ASAP, preferably during the next month. This month's special is:

Brent Weeks: The Way of Shadows

I saw it, bought it and forgot about it, as usual. Then I met a girl last month who absolutely adores The Night Angel trilogy - even more so than A Song of Ice and Fire series. Now I think I really need to read The Way of Shadows, if only to see whether her love for it is justified.

'Fun' fact: as for now, I've only read one of all The Pile Specials - Richard Morgan's Black Man. I've started reading Gormenghast and Nights of Villjamur, but I didn't feel I was in the mood for the latter and while I like the former, I read it a bit like a bedside story, a few pages every evening, so it will take me forever to read.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

George R. R. Martin - A Dance With Dragons (Book Review)

At first, I meant to wait and publish this review on 12th of July, but then a bunch of reviews got released a few days ago and I changed my mind. :) Keep in mind that I’m a huge fan of ASOIAF series; I tried my best to write a non-biased review, but reviewing books you like is always hard. This review does NOT include any significant spoilers for ADWD, but it does include some references to previous volumes.

I was one of the lucky few who got their books from – in my case, though, it was also through kindness of Adz, who was actually the one who pre-ordered the books and was generous enough to send me one of her two copies. Thanks again! You can imagine how thrilled I was when the book arrived, and I began reading it immediately, but by the time I finally put it down, my excitement had somewhat waned. Why?

Well, the first thing is that A Dance with Dragons is, as Wert aptly described it, sprawling. It takes place on many different locations of The Seven Kingdoms and The Free Cities that are sometimes a whole continent apart. Before, we mostly followed events that took place in The Seven Kingdoms, with Dany and later Arya being the only POVS in The Free Cities. This time around, The Free Cities are in the centre of it all, but plenty of POVs still remain scattered throughout The Seven Kingdoms – and each is telling their own story. This can sometimes make the story seem a bit too diffused; the reader has to follow both the politics of The Free Cities and the events in The Seven Kingdoms, which are not in the best of states after the events of A Feast for Crows.

Jumping to and fro between POVs doesn’t help the reader any. In the first half of the book, the POVs are mostly Tyrion, Jon and Daenerys, which makes the plot very easy to follow even though it’s as complex as always. In the other half of the book, though, the POVs grow considerably more numerous and incredibly fragmented, with plenty of characters only appearing in one or two chapters. The plot is thus much harder to follow and the flow of the story is interrupted, but on the other hand, this fragmentation also brings some insight into the events that transpire in The Seven Kingdoms. Still, it all left me a bit confused, if very much curious as to what will happen next.

A Dance with Dragons will not answer most of the questions you’ve had ever since you’ve read A Feast for Crows or even A Storm of Swords; it will rather give you plenty more things to wonder about. In the second half of the book, we reach the final events of A Feast for Crows and see some of the familiar faces again, but to my great disappointment, most of POVs from A Feast for Crows only appear briefly and in some cases not at all.

What probably irked me most about A Dance with Dragons was that many characters previously thought dead or missing appear again. Even though they are mostly minor characters, this took some edge off my constant worry over who will get killed next. A Dance with Dragons has its share of shocking events, but they left me skeptical – after all, I’ve just been shown that not everything happened the way I thought it did, so who says it’s any different this time around? Who says those characters will not return in The Winds of Winter? The problem is that I like to worry about who will die next – it means that I actually care about the characters and this emotional investment is an important part of my reading experience. So while I do not believe that all of the characters presumed dead or missing will stay this way in the next two installments, I sure hope that most of them will.

So, was A Dance with Dragons worth the wait? I honestly can’t give a definite answer to that question. It’s definitely a wonderful and complex book that did not disappoint me, but on the other hand, it could hardly live up to the expectations I’ve had of it after all these years. The style is often not as flowing as I’d like it to be, there is still some repetition of certain phrases – ‘words are wind’ especially seems to be everyone’s new favourite saying – and, much like A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons seems to suffer from being one of the middle books of the series, as the events that transpire in it are mostly just setting the stage for the grand finale. Still, I can’t say anything but ‘kudos’ to Martin – despite the complexity of the book he holds the reins of the plot firmly in his hands.

And so begins our wait again. Is The Winds of Winter out yet?



I hate hate hate hate IE so much aaaarghhhhh >:(

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Monthly report: May '11

Because it often happens that I read a book but don't review it (or I take a long time writing a review), I've decided to start posting brief monthly reports on what I read, including a sentence or two about the book if it was not reviewed.

May was a month of good books.
Sure, I read good books every month, but it rarely happens that I read four or five excellent books in a row.

The Gone-Away World (Nick Harkaway)
This is probably going to be one of my favourite books of 2011. The Gone-Away world is not so much about a world that has suffered a major (and incredibly weird) catastrophe but about a life of a man who met a lot of strange people and seen a lot of strange things. The plot is so full of fantastic elements that it functions almost like a fairy tale, despite the very sombre themes of war, destruction and loss, and the ending kicks ass. Very much recommended.

Palimpsest (Catherynne M. Valente)
This is another book that might find its way to my Best of 2011 list. I loved Valente's The Orphan's Tales duology, but it wasn't until I read Palimpsest that Valente definitely became one of my favourite authors. Her style is simply incredible and the stories she tells are magical, no matter whether they are fairy tales written on the eyelids of an orphan girl or stories of a magical city that can ruin lives as well as make them wonderful.

On The Beach
(Nevil Shute)
This is the book that started my fascination with everything eschatological. It all began when I saw its TV adaptation at age 11 and had nightmares for a week (fun times!). So when I found out that there was a book behind it all, I simply had to read it. I knew what to expect, so I didn't find the book as depressing as some might have, but it was still an interesting and melancholic read. (Review upcoming.)

Let The Right One In (John Ajvide Lindqvist)
Vampires! Every time I enter the local bookshop I see vampire books everywhere. The shelf that used to hold mostly SF/FF and a few horror titles is now full of paranormal romance. I'm very happy when I find books like Let The Right One In that show vampires as something other than sexy bloodsuckers. While not exactly horror, this book was an intriguing and very unusual read.

Under Heaven
(Guy Gavriel Kay)
Everyone loved this book and I finally know why. At first glance, Under Heaven reminded me of Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet, but the similarities lie mostly in the setting and the great writing style. I especially appreciated the characters and the way the plot resolved - one would expect a way more 'traditional' ending, but Under Heaven ends in a way that adds some extra feeling of realism and leaves you wishing there was a sequel. I definitely need to read some other works by Guy Gavriel Kay.

DO YOU SEE WHAT EXAMS DO TO MY SCHEDULE?? argh. I'm afraid there will be no reviews this month, but I'll try to at least put The Pile post together.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games (Book Review)


Reasons for reading: The Hunger Games (or its sequels) found its way onto so many Best Of lists that I had to read it. Also, it's post-apocalyptic, which is a good enough reason for me.

In a distant future, there is nothing in North America but ruins, devastation and a nation of Panem, an isle of civilization amidst destruction. When one of its 13 districts surrounding the glorious Capitol rebelled, the Capitol destroyed it and created Hunger Games to punish people of the districts for disobedience: every year, each district must sacrifice two teenagers, one male and one female, to compete with the others for fame, glory and comfort. Katniss Everdeen is just an ordinary girl, but when her younger sister's name is drawn at the lottery, she volunteers to take her place in order to save her – the Hunger Games mean fight to death and there is only one winner.

The Hunger Games came as a huge surprise for me. Despite all the hype that surrounded the recent publication of Mockingjay (or maybe because of it), I remained wary of the series and only ordered Book I when it found its way to numerous Best Of lists. I'm glad that I did.

The plot of The Hunger Games is nothing very new or unique – a reality show where teenage contestants fight to death and/or the one who survives the longest wins. I was introduced to the concept in Stephen's King The Long Walk and it intrigued me even then, so naturally, the main plot of The Hunger Games appealed to me despite its similarities to The Long Walk*.

What came as a real surprise, though, was that The Hunger Games was incredibly exciting. Saying that a story is 'gripping' sounds like a major cliché, but it's true; I've read it in one sitting and I loved (almost) every bit of it. I can't remember when I've last read a book with this much suspense and a story so vivid. Collins constructs a very interesting post-apocalyptic world which actually works and doesn't feel too fake or too rigid. Of course, there are questions that go unanswered, especially regarding the economy of Panem, but the reader's attention is gently redirected to the central part of the story – the games – so the reader quickly stops dwelling on other things and becomes immersed in the action..

Katniss is a very likeable character and I was glad to see that, for once, the protagonist of a YA novel is not the archetypal troubled teenager. Sure, Katniss is troubled by some typical teenage problems, and can, at times, be a bit of a Mary-Sue: she has no serious character flaws as far as I've managed to discern, she is pretty, an amazing archer and a capable hunter, brave and caring … The situations she finds herself in, however, make her concentrate on survival and other tasks at hand instead of herself. It also helps that Collins plays the reader incredibly well – one can never be really sure who exactly is and who isn't Katniss friend in the arena at most times.

Speaking of the arena – I half-hoped that there would be some kind of a twist that would show the reader how Katniss' point of view isn't always 100% accurate. There were some passages where Katniss admits to forgetting how many contestants remain in the arena; I hoped that the author would take advantage of Katniss' and reader's confusion to add to the suspense by surprising us with a character we completely forgot about. Sadly, this was not the case; for better or worse, Collins keeps track of all contestants who matter and Katniss never misjudges a situation severely.

Although I practically devoured The Hunger Games, there were still some things that bothered me. I already mentioned most of them, but the one that bothered me most of all was the slight shift of attention from the Games to the love-triangle-in-the-making in the last third of the book. I mean, really? Why does every YA series need one of those? I honestly can't remember me or any of my friends being in that kind of a dilemma when we were teenagers, but in the world of YA series, it seems like a really common thing. Luckily for the reader, Katniss doesn't pay it much thought, but still – the ending is not very promising in that aspect. I'm also not sure whether I like the whole 'rebellious youth' thing; it feels just a bit too generic, even though it's actually logical here, as Katniss lives in a very oppressive world. I just hope that The Hunger Games won't turn out to be one of those YA series which has an empty husk of a protagonist who seems to have all the typical teenage problems combined plus the problem of saving the world/his family/his life.

Despite these flaws (which are, I think, typical for YA genre in general, not just for this novel), The Hunger Games is an incredibly exciting read, filled with action and suspense. I just hope that the sequels stay focused on things other than teenage romance.


* I watched Battle Royale in the week between writing and posting this review. What can I say? Some of the things are exactly the same (danger zones, young couple, etc.), but the atmosphere is completely different. In any case, Battle Royale is a great film, but I must admit it made me value Hunger Games a bit less.

By the way, if you want to read a really detailed analysis of The Hunger Games, check out this blog. I admit I barely noticed most of the things she mentioned, probably because I read the whole book in one big bite.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eye Candy Covers: The Islanders by Christopher Priest

Eye candy covers! There was no post about covers here on RoSF in two years or so, because - actually, I have no idea why. (Probably because Thrinidir did those, and Thrinidir does not contribute to this blog as much as he used to.)
Anyway, I think it's about time to resurrect this column, because everyone loves a nice cover.

The Islanders by Christopher Priest is probably my most-awaited book of 2011. (Yes, I'm anticipating it even more than ADwD, simply because I won't believe that ADwD is finished until I hold it in my hands.*) Here's the working image for its cover:

Damn. This is hardly an eye candy. As Adam noted, it's very retro; my problem is that I don't like retro at all. I like the Gollancz paperback covers of Priest's books; they are elegant and pretty:


This one, however ... I really hope they change it. If I saw The Islanders in a bookshop, I'd walk straight past it with a cover like that - to me, it seems to scream 'BORING'. It also looks a bit like the books my mother read when I was a kid, which is in fact probably one of the reasons why I think 'boring' when I see it.

Source: The Wertzone

* Not that this has prevented me from pre-ordering it

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Pile: March & April '11

The TBR pile - we all have one and it grows faster than we can read. Mine is no exception. I thought it might be interesting to round up and present all of my recent acquisitions once a month, so ... here we go.

I completely forgot to do The Pile for March! Luckily, I've presented some of the books in the Monthly report; otherwise, this list would be even longer than it already is.

Max Brooks: World War Z

This one was on my to-buy list for a very long time until I finally decided to buy it. On one hand, it's the book everyone mentions sooner or later when there's a debate involving zombie apocalypse; on the other hand, I'm not really a big fan of the zombie apocalypse. We'll see whether World War Z makes me change my mind. Reading priority: medium.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Wise Man's Fear

Do I even need to say anything about this one? I liked The Name of the Wind very, very much. I do have to re-read it, though, so The Wise Man's Fear will sit on my shelf for a bit more. Reading priority is therefore medium.

Stanislaw Lem: Solaris

I don't know much about this one other than it's a classic SF novel and that Lem is a pretty good writer. I bought it completely on a whim when I found it on a shelf of a local bookshop. Reading priority: medium.

Stephen Baxter: Flood

It's post-apocalyptic and it has a cool cover. Reading priority: high! (Yeah, this is essentially my criteria for which book to read next. I'm a shallow person. :D )

Christopher Priest: The Prestige

Another one of those 'saw the movie, bought the book' novels. However, I don't really think I'll forget the twist of The Prestige anytime soon, so reading priority is medium (and not low, as Shutter Island's is). I mean, this is Christopher Priest, how can I buy a book of his and not read it anytime soon?

Iain Banks: Transition

You know how it is when you absolutely need to buy a book and ordering it from the Internet is just not good enough? At times like these, I have to resort to local bookshops which don't really have that many books in English, and I buy the first thing that looks half decent. I don't know anything about Transition other than it was written by Banks, but that's good enough for me. Reading priority: low. (Ugly cover. Sorry, Mr. Banks.)

Iain Banks: The Crow Road

I also have this habit of buying at least one book whenever I travel abroad. I picked this one up in Belgrade, mostly because it starts with 'It was the day when my grandmother exploded'. How could I not buy it after an opening like that? Reading priority: high. (Pretty cover.)

Richard Matheson: The Shrinking Man

The second book I bought in Belgrade. The Shrinking Man is about a man who one day starts growing smaller and smaller (as the title tells us), and discovers that being really tiny is no fun at all. I really liked I Am Legend, so I hope this one will not disappoint too badly. Reading priority: medium.

Steven C. Schlozman: The Zombie Autopsies

I got this one as a review copy from Bantam. Looks very similar to World War Z - it's written as a journal kept by a neuroscientist who investigates a zombie disease. Reading priority: low.

Jon Steele: The Watchers

Another review copy from Bantam! This one looks much more intriguing than The Zombie Autopsies; 'a number of more or less ordinary people whose paths eventually intersect' is always an interesting, if much used, premise. Reading priority: high.

The Pile Special

I bet you know the feeling when you have a book on your TBR pile that seemingly everyone has read and praised, but you still haven't gotten around to reading it. I have plenty of those, and I will select and present one every month. My goal? To read it ASAP, preferably during the next month. This month's special is:

Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast Trilogy

The story here is the same as with all of the previous The Pile Specials: I bought the book some time ago (Goodreads tells me that 'some time' in this case means 'more than one year') and never read it, even though I've been told that given my love of the fantastic, I'll surely enjoy it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

William Gibson - Neuromancer (Book Review)


Reasons for reading: I had to read it for a paper I was writing.

As soon as I started reading it, I realised that Neuromancer is a very curious book. At first, it's all a bit confusing, with paragraphs describing seemingly random images in the life of a man named Case. Case also seems like a totally random person; we told that he is something, and that he used to be something else, but we have no idea what those 'somethings' actually are until later in the book when we manage to cobble it all together.

In general, Neuromancer is very fragmented. Almost every paragraph deals with a different point in time and space than the previous one, and they all begin in medias res, so the reader is – at least in the beginning – perpetually confused. In other novels, after the initial shock of being thrown into the middle of a story, the reader would slowly get to know what is actually happening (and where); here, he only has time to register the unfamiliar setting before being thrown elsewhere. This has an interesting side effect: for me, reading Neuromancer was a bit like trying to read something written in a language I'm not yet fluent in – I knew it made sense and understood some of it, but mostly, I had no idea what exactly the names and the phrases referred to.

When the prose pauses to describe something in some more detail, however, it's surprisingly evocative:

He'd missed the first wasp, when it built its paperfine gray house on the blistered paint of the windowframe, but soon the nest was a fist-sized lump of fiber, insects hurtling out to hunt the alley below like miniature copters buzzing the rotting contents of the dumpsters. […] He saw the thing the shell of gray paper had concealed.
Horror. The spiral birth factory, stepped terraces of the hatching cells, blind jaws of the unborn moving ceaselessly, the staged progress from egg to larva, near-wasp, wasp. In his mind's eye, a kind of time-lapse photography took place, revealing the thing as the biological equivalent of a machine gun, hideous in its perfection.

When I finally managed to put enough pieces together to understand what was going on, I actually began to enjoy the novel. It's the first cyberpunk book I've ever read and I was surprised to find it more intriguing than The Matrix which it inspired (and which I loved). I don't know what exactly it was that drew me to the book so – probably that action is heavily laced with other things, like the mystery of Wintermute and Armitage, the depictions of Villa Straylight and the different parts technology plays in different social groups. I still felt a bit distanced from the story itself, though; maybe it was the jargon that is present throughout the book, but I think the real reason was the general tone of the narration. I don't read much SF precisely because there always seems to be this atmosphere of cold detachment which is also present in Neuromancer – I don't feel especially connected to the characters, even though I might find the book incredibly exciting, as was the case with Neuromancer.

I have to say that Neuromancer is a very good novel. I felt it in the way it was written and in the way the images were practically leaping at me from the pages. My reading experience, however, was not so pleasant – the book didn't really grip me until the last third of it, and by then it was too late – even though I felt that my efforts to keep reading have paid off, the fact remains that getting through the first two thirds were a bit of a chore. I've heard that Neuromancer is a love it or hate it type of book, but I don't really agree with that – I think everyone should at least give it a chance. Neuromancer can be a laboured read or a wondrous journey, and I found a bit of both in it.


Saturday, April 30, 2011

Monthly report: March & April 2011

Because it often happens that I read a book but don't review it (or I take a long time writing a review), I've decided to start posting brief monthly reports on what I read, including a sentence or two about the book if it was not reviewed.

I didn't read much in March and April, so I decided to (again) combine the two montly reports. :)

Black Man (Richard Morgan): First of 'The Pile specials' I actually managed to read! Black Man was not quite what I expected - it's a bit of an SF detective story, and while the plot had me quite interested, I didn't feel very close to either of the protagonists, I couldn't immerse myself in the story even when I tried and it was overall a very, very slow read. I have to add that these are problems I often encounter when reading SF, though; I'm never sure whether that's due to authors' style or whether it's just me.

Swan Song (Robert McCammon): A re-read. Swan Song is a total ripoff of The Stand (I mean it - the end of the world, plethora of characters, good vs. evil faction, supernatural powers on both sides, plethora of characters, a traumatised youngster who falls prey to the 'dark side' and 'the man with the scarlet eye' as the antagonists, ...), but still interesting and gripping enough to be read in one sitting.

(Karl Marlantes): While this one doesn't fall under the speculative fiction category, it seemed to be everyone's favourite book of 2010 and so I absolutely had to read it. Turns out that for once, I agreed with the praise I heard about it - the book was an awesome read, and I'm still struggling to describe it in the way that'd do it justice. Matterhorn is about Vietnam war as it really was through the eyes of a young man - mind-numbingly boring and yet incredibly exciting, futile and illogical, a dangerous game. The book was also gripping enough to keep me reading through the night until I finished it, which is always a good thing (unless you have to get up early ;).

The Folding Knife (K. J. Parker): this was another one of those curious books that are really intriguing, plot-wise, but at the same time the story is just not gripping enough and you stay somewhere in the middle, reading on because you want to know what happens, while taking your sweet time to do so because you're not that interested after all (and the pace of the book is not exactly fast, either). I know that the characters weren't the problem here - the story centers on Basso whom I actually liked very much - so maybe it was the lack of action? The Folding Knife was good enough that I want to read more by K. J. Parker, but I think it'd greatly benefit from a faster pace.

ng Fire & Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins): These two books have
exactly the pace The Folding Knife is lacking. While I was not as impressed with them as I was with The Hunger Games, I still devoured them - I read both in one sitting, and I don't think this ever happened to me with a series. There are some slight problems with the plot and characters, but this has to be one of the most exciting series I've ever read. (Review upcoming.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Felix Gilman - The Half-Made World (Book Review)


Reasons for reading: I enjoyed The Thunderer and was thrilled when I got a review copy of The Half-Made World from Tor.

I actually like it when I forget what exactly the book I pick up as my next read is supposed to be about. It seems to me that this way, a book stands a better chance to be a pleasant surprise – and I, like most everyone else, love pleasant surprises. The Half-Made World was a surprise in most every ways, but one aspect of it especially stood out: the amazing steampunk-ish world featured in the novel and the way this world was described and handled throughout the book.

Aside from being only half-made, the world Gilman builds in this novel is above all intriguing and depicted in surprising detail. There is the mysterious territory where the world is not yet made; there are lands belonging to Line, a dangerous faction that is all about discipline and hivemind attitude, and neutral countries in the East which care more about science than about world politics. There is also a faction called The Gun, whose agents are spread all over the world; it is led by demons who possess the weapons of their minions, and there is an ancient, immortal race of the (First) Folk, enslaved by the current residents of the West, and this could sound like a right cliché if the Folk were even remotely similar to elves, which they're not – they have spiderlike legs, deep red eyes and manes, and when I say 'immortal', I not only mean that they don't die unless killed, but that they don't die, ever. There are also the Smilers, the remains of the Red Valley Republic, which was defeated by the Line 20 years before the events in The Half-Made World; sadly, despite the Republic's noble cause – an effort to stand against the Gun and the Line – the Smilers come across as a bunch of brainwashed fanatics hiding deep in the unknown territory. Gilman paints us a world so vast that it could easily fuel a whole series of books and/or inspire dozens of other stories set in the same universe – a world which would be wasted if it were only used in a single novel.

We follow the story through the eyes of three protagonists: Sub-Invigilator Lowry, agent of the Line who, despite Line's best efforts, harbours possibly rebellious thoughts of fame and success; Creedmoor, agent of the Gun who, despite Gun's best efforts, harbours definitely rebellious thoughts of doubting his master's competence and planning to escape their grasp, and Dr. Lysvet 'Liv' Alverhuysen, a rather naïve psychologist who travels west with one of her patients, Maggfrid, and also happens to be addicted to her 'nerve tonic'. The three characters all have their own quests, but their paths all intersect and by a series of coincidences, they all end up in the same place on the very border of the made world.

The Half-Made World is not all innovative world-building, interesting characters and gripping plot, though. For instance, Liv is the only character that develops considerably in any way. Creedmoor and Lowry are both archetypes – the incredibly loyal servant who worships his masters but at the same time wishes his loyalty were recognised and repaid, and a dashing adventurer who enjoys the company of pretty women and is tired of his eternal servitude. If Creedmor changes at least somewhat throughout the novel, Lowry remains the same despite opportunities to break free of his role, and even though that's perfectly plausible (because Lowry is too scared to change in any way), I must admit I was a bit disappointed. Agatha seems to learn the most from the situations she finds herself in, but even her behaviour is rather predictable – she becomes sympathetic to her captor and shakes off her nerve tonic addiction.

Despite the small flaws, The Half-Made World is a very good read. The plot flows effortlesly over the pages and descriptions of the setting are not tedious, as it so often happens, but immensely enjoyable. Many of the reader's questions remain unanswered, though; I hope that the sequel, will take care of that. Either way, I'd recommend The Half-Made World both to everyone who loves good world-building and to people who usually skim over the descriptive paragraphs, because if there's one book that will make you want not only to read such paragraphs carefully but also over and over again, this is probably it. A pleasant surprise all around; I eagerly await the sequel.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

TV Series: Game of Thrones - Season One (First Impressions)

*mild spoilers ahead*

A Song of Ice and Fire is probably my favorite series and book two and book three are one of my favorite books of all time. I watched the first episode yesterday evening with Trin who's just as big a fan as I am. She also reread the first three books recently and loved them immensely even though she feared they would lose some of the shine the second time around.

I really want to rave about episode one, I want to tell you how friggin' good it is, I really do, but I can't. It is good though, even great in some aspects, but it's not as good as I wanted it to be. I guess it's impossible to reach high standards that the novels set up for me. So yes, I have to say I'm disappointed...but just a bit, the potential is there. Maybe it would feel different, if I wouldn't know what's going to happen in advance and suspension would grip me tight, but it's also a possibility that I just might have felt lost with all the exposition being thrown my way and by the background story. I missed moments when a simple dialogue line or a short silence filled with meaning rise goosebumps on your skin. I missed the hook.

I appreciate the artistic idea for the intro, but it feels like the cogs and the wheels were a bit off key with the general atmosphere and setting. I didn't really care for the music, which means that while I don't think it's bad at all, but it also doesn't make me want to buy the original sound track.

Scenery is...faithful to the books, which is a good thing for the most part. I especially savoured The Wall and the short panorama shorts of King's Landing. The scene in godswood was also enjoyably eerie. I hoped Winterfell would look more imposing and forbidding. As it turned out it was more like a rowdy village-fort, but I guess there's gritty northern appeal to that as well.

Arya, Brann, Cersei, and King Robert to an extent, but especially Tyrion were brilliant. Both child actors felt like transformed from the books, but it's reasonable to expect that it's much easier to portray a tom-boy and a reserved boy with little dialogue than a fully grown individual who's riven with conflicting emotions and motivations. When I saw Cersei on trailer movies I was dismayed, because I visualized her differently (her looks go towards classical beauty, but I always pictured her like a blond porn-star -- without over-sized body attributes ofcourse -- comparable to early Jenna Jameson or Krystal Steal, but with downplayed wantonness), but she transforms the b**** from the books (pardon my french) into a more wholesome and complex character. This gives the "evil" Lannisters another human face from the start which produces a more believable antagonism between the two houses. I don't think many people are aware how ugly Tyrion should be, with dwindling strands of hair, mismatched eyes and an appearance of a much older man while he's still in his twenties, but for what it's worth, Dinklage's performance is indeed stellar. King Robert was the other person I was dismayed when considering previews. The actor seemed more inclined towards "milder" roles, but I must say he plays the raucous king pretty damn well. I also relished the brief appearances of Jorah Mormont and Benjen Stark.

Performance from Viserys and Caitlin was equally enjoyable, if only a bit less impressive. Visery's conveyed the ambition and impetuousness from his literary inspiration well, but I missed the streak of Targaryen madness running through him. Cat is shown more as a caring mother than a woman obsessed with the well-being of her litter, which is also great, given the fact that her single-minded determination dismayed many fans and casual readers. Jamie was OK, but there was something about the final scene that disappointed me. I expected it to have a bigger impact, but it felt somewhat lukewarm.

Daenerys and Eddard were up to their roles, but without any truly stellar moments. Sean Bean is comfortable in his Boromir role - a caring and noble protagonist who's riven with conflicting emotions  - but he doesn't have any stellar moments, at least not in the first episode. Assaults on Dany's dignity and her coping with given situation were portrayed rather well, but I believe that flashes of her future self should be glimpsed at, even in introductory scenes. Her blond wig was terrible though, they might have given her purple eye-lenses as well. It couldn't look any worse that's for sure.

Jon is, sad to say, unremarkable. The same goes for Robb, but given how little screen time he gets, it's nothing to condemn yet.

Now to the bad, or rather, to the things that bothered me.

The Dothraki were undercooked, plain and simple. The lived-in surroundings that many early viewers describe as favorable only applies to Westeros, the scenery beyond The Narrow Sea is anything but. The lack of "grit" is stark in comparison to what we see elsewhere, but it doesn't add to the mystique of the place, to the contrary, it takes all of it away. The costumes look like something straight from the shop, the ceremony looked like a parade gone bad, or a dance performance with tasteless choreography. The short deadly duel by two revelers felt out of place in the cheesy setting and under the staring eye of Khal Drogo. The problem is, Khal Drogo didn't look so much as a taciturn savage, full of bridled power and charisma, but more like a depilated jock, trying hard to remember the lines he was supposed to say. The closing scene between Khal Drogo and Dany feels forced - Drogo's more uncomfortable doing the undressing than us who're watching it.

I'm no prude and enjoy the view of naked female breasts as much as anyone really. We have a fair share of these in episode one, as well as several glimpses of pertaining nocturnal activities. I'm not sure that it's the quantity of explicit material that bothered me, I was more put off by the forced nature of it. It just didn't feel natural to the flow of narrative. There's a a lot of coitus and nakedness going on in the books, but the nature of reading experience makes these things feel comfortably spaced out. Now if you cram all the boobs from the first third of book one into a single episode of the TV series I might cringe a bit, especially if there's so much actual story to be told (hidden behind the voluptuous lumps).

Despite my reservations, I think the story is setting up well and we can hope that the future episodes heighten the complexity, the drama and the immersion of the audience. I know I'm willing to give it my best, I hope you are as well.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Monthly report: January & February 2011

Because it often happens that I read a book but don't review it (or I take a long time writing a review), I've decided to start posting brief monthly reports on what I read, including a sentence or two about the book if it was not reviewed.
Since I didn't do a Monthly report for January yet, I'll bundle it together with the February report. :)

I've read a lot - considering that I had exams and everything - in both January and February. March has been slow going in comparison, but I still have a week left. I can read a lot in a week. :P

The Passage (Justin Cronin): Thrinidir found this one for me I didn't need a lot of convincing to buy it - a post-apocalyptic book that's being compared to The Stand? I'm sold.
The Passage didn't disappoint - it was more than decent, even though it's not terribly innovative or incredibly well written. It's a very enjoyable read despite that, and even though the last third of the book made me suspect that the ending will be corny as hell, I was proven wrong (and liked it).

Mr. Shivers
(Robert Jackson Bennett): I've expected much, much more from this book. This was yet another title from someone's best of 2010 list, so naturally, I expected the book to be at least decent, but it left me completely cold. Not that it was horrible, but it was incredibly predictable and gave me the feeling that the author wrote it in a hurry. (Review upcoming)

(William Gibson): Usually, my uni obligations do nothing to help me with my TBR pile, but this time around, they actually did ... I had to read Neuromancer for a paper I was writing, and I enjoyed it a lot. I can see why it is a classic, and I can also understand why so many people dislike it. As a read, it was a bit confusing at first, but I got hooked in the last third of the book and was glad that I didn't give up on it. (Review upcoming)

(Joe Hill): I actually don't have much to say about this one. I enjoyed it, but it was not as good as I'd expect (I saw it on numerous Best of 2010 lists). I also hoped that the author would focus on the whole 'horns that make you speak exactly what's on your mind' thing, but the book ended up being very similar to the wonderful Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrarri - only with Ig being more like Joby in reverse. (Review upcoming)

(Chine Miéville): Ah, Kraken. How can such a disappointing novel hide behind such a great cover art? I loved The City and The City, I loved Un Lun Dun and I really wanted to love Kraken, too. I mean, it's a book about a giant squid, what is there not to like? Sadly, I found plenty of things I didn't like about Kraken, and by the time I got near the end of it, I had long stopped caring about the characters. I can't help but think that I somehow got the wrong novel, that there must be another Kraken, the one that everyone loved. (Review upcoming)

The Half-Made World (Felix Gilman): This was one of the novels that actually lived up to its reputation. The Half-Made World is exactly what I was looking for - well-written steampunk with vivid imagery. The protagonists were a tad archetypal, but my journey through Gilman's half-made world was still enjoyable. (Review upcoming)

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins): This novel was a huge surprise for me - I really didn't expect much from it, but I ended up completely enamored with it. I read it in one sitting and enjoyed it immensely. (Review upcoming)

The Road
(Cormac McCarthy): A long overdue re-read, again for uni-related stuff. What can I say? I'm still convinced that The Road deserves to be called a post-apocalyptic literature classic.
(You can read Thrinidir's review of The Road here).

The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin): Another re-read for the same paper I had to read Neuromancer for - what can I say, I've had some interesting papers to write this year. In Monthly report for December, I wrote that I found The Left Hand of Darkness somewhat odd when I first read it; I guess that was because I was still a more or less inexperienced reader at the time. I liked it much more this time around, but I can't possibly review it - not after reading so many different analyses of it.

The Reapers are the Angels (Alden Bell): I hate it when I buy a book despite my initial skepticism only to find that I was actually right about it. The Reapers are the Angels (or, as I much less eloquently dubbed it, 'The Crappy Title Book') is one of such cases - there are so many positive reviews on it that I ordered it despite my initial suspicions. While it was not terribly bad, it was still far from being good, and I was left wondering how the hell it managed to get all those positive reviews. (Review upcoming)


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