The Twentieth Wife is a tough nut to crack. You *want* to like it; it's painstakingly researched and brings the court intrigues of Mughul India to life. However, the book has a few really critical flaws:
1. It often skips the key events, describing them between-chapter narration, choosing instead to flesh out the areas between key events.
2. It's characters change sometimes without a sense of why. You get the sense that the author saw, in the History, a change in character, and then made the character changed in the novel without a good sense of motivation. A simple non-spoiler example (although by no means the most jarring) is Mehrunnisa suddenly becoming an expert craftswoman.
3. The pacing is very uneven -- threads are suddenly picked up and then dropped as promptly. It seems, again, as though the author were paying close attention to historical accounts and including things simply because they're recorded in the history. The sudden inclusion of the English & Portuguese at the end of the book is very jarring.
4. The story relies on the love between two characters, but that love doesn't feel believable. There is a sense that there is a more subtle story about power, status and money hiding in the facts which the author tries to skirt around in favor of some fairytale concept of love. However, the facts don't seem to fit the emotions the characters are meant to have. I wasn't convinced by being told, again and again, how much the motivation was love. It felt hollow somehow.
It was an enjoyable enough listen -- it got me through re-painting my apartment, but i was never lost in the story. The story and setting are quite interesting, the narration is very good, but the execution of the book is flat and somehow lifeless. I do not regret listening, but I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend it either.
After listening to the first book, I was invested enough to listen to the second, but wasn't particularly gagging for it either. After finishing the second book, my feelings hadn't appreciably changed in either direction.
What's good: Very well researched, great sense of the era, the war, the city, and great exposure to the inglorious and undertold parts of the British WWII story. I genuinely learned much more about the second world war, and found myself very interested in that.
LESS EFFECTIVE was the actual narrative storytelling. The characters are often 'prevented' from doing things that they'd like due to narrative conceits (according to the book the 'space-time-continuum') but I found myself thinking the characters were rather thick-skulled and were trying far too hard to be polite. Given the stakes, one would expect the characters to be more assertive. The pacing of the whole series was fairly poor -- there is no appreciable climax.
I would recommend this as a 'mood-piece' of historical fiction; as straight narrative it's fairly weak.
I recently panned Frank Herbert's Dune in a review. I hated it. Somebody recommended this classic to me as an alternative and boy oh boy am I glad I listened. This is a classic deserving of that title.
I was aware of much about Ender's Game for a long time -- the young boy, the battle school, the training to fight an Alien War -- but that's only half the book. The other half is a wider picture of the world of this time -- of human nature at it's best and worst in a wonderfully realized world.
The pacing of this book is strange: The first 3/4 of it are predominantly focused on the Battle School and War -- and then the 'denouement' changes into something completely different. It becomes a poignant and philosophical book about morals and human nature -- and it extends beyond where a 'typical' novel would leave off.
If you finish this book, and like me, find the "Game" part of Ender's Game good, but what comes after it much much better, then please listen also to SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, the sequel, which is more in this vein. This is shaping up to be my favorite science fiction series of all time.
Is it Heresy to say that Dune is actually not very good?
Well, it's not.
It's overwrought, overlong, and hard to access. It lacks empathetic characters, it's pacing is bizarre and inconsistent. It may have been a milestone book at one time, but it is not actually -- well -- good.
I've seen both the old film and the SciFi miniseries. The book is the best way to experience the story, no doubt. Too much of the plot revolves around mental control, subtle understandings, and 'magic' to translate well onto film.
However, just because it's the best doesn't mean it's good.
I didn't mind the "full cast" production for a long time, until narrators started switching towards the end. The sudden change in the voice of Vladimir Harkonen was particularly jarring.
Overall -- don't waste your time. This is a classic in the same way that a biplane is classic. Important in it's day, but you wouldn't want to fly in one now if you could avoid it.
I've never heard of Tim Wu before reading this, but he really knows his stuff as far as media/technology history goes. The best parts of this book were examining this history of prior "cutting edge" media (Telephony, Radio, Television) through the eyes of what we'd now call the "Open Source" vs. "Closed System" dynamic. Fascinating and informative. I found I couldn't put it down.
HOWEVER -- the last hour turns into a very biased analysis of what's going on today.
I take his larger point -- that the Internet's open-ended structure which we tend to think of as permanent is not, in fact, unassailable. I think it's a well-supported point and he makes some interesting conjectures as to how that structure could change.
But I feel he makes a serious error in his analysis.
Specifically, he reduces "fate of the communications future" to a simple dynamic: Apple vs Google, with his preference clearly falling on Team Google. I think this a fairly short-sighted, narrow interpretation. Unlike the Bell of RCA companies of yesteryear, *neither* company owns anything that could not be replaced through a process of consumer demand. (Neither owns the "wires") Apple is not the "too big to fail" monopoly that Bell was -- it just plays nicely with the companies that are. So while these two companies clearly have different ideologies vis-a-vis the internet, BOTH could be undone by a vertically integrated powerhouse!
Further, as another reviewer points out, it assumes an American dominance of the communications future. And, like it or not, the Internet has wrested that ability from any one nation. Let's assume that "Comcast-NBC-Verizon-Apple-Intel-Universal" (Hypothetical Conglomerate) were to make the internet "controlled" in the USA. This would be such an economic disadvantage the the US, that new pioneer firms would pop up in more free information markets. This will always serve as a disincentive towards central control.
My griping aside -- I can heartily recommend this book. Take some of the analyses with a grain of salt and make up your own mind -- but don't skip this book simply because it draws some dodgy conclusions. You'll learn a lot and it will make you think.
I was unsure, from the reviews, if I would like this book. I really did. But I wanted to write a small review to clear up a few things:
- This is *not* a horror book, nor is it likely to scare you if you can watch an average episode of CSI. Don't come here to be *scared*
- This book *is* a (mostly) subjective insight into one of the biggest cases of the prior century, and makes some interesting observations about human nature -- from the level of violence, culture, counter-culture, media, and law -enforcement. This is why I put the word "legal" in block capitals surrounded by multiple asterix in my headline. This is a fairly technical book about the crime, investigation and trial. It manages to be quite detailed without being at all dry or uninteresting.
- It's also not a sensational book. It feels mostly quite fair and impartial, with a few exceptions. If you're a Manson "fan" or a serial-killer junkie -- you'll probably not get too much out of this. This book deals with facts, and in my mind that's a lot more interesting.
I work professionally as a Video Game Developer -- so any book in that world makes me *cringe* internally that the author will get a myriad of details -- both technical and in tone -- that the author will inevitably butcher. (I'm look at you jPod and Douglas Coupland) However, I shouldn't have been worried -- this is Neal Stephenson! He gets the details right! That's what he does! And from my perspective he did it here.
With few exceptions, he doesn't make mistakes in this book with either the technology or the culture. T'rain feels like the kind of game that might eventually unseat World of Warcraft from the MMPORG throne, and Dodge the kind of guy who might found it. People who work in the video game world all tend to be a little crazy -- and he gets that just right here too. It also shows a tangibly near-future scenario that shows how Gaming Technology and Culture might have a serious impact on things in the real world -- Like Global Military Security
Reamde starts in the vein of Cryptonomicon, then takes a very sudden left turn due to some pretty serious Deux Ex Machina. Be prepared for some suspension of disbelief there -- but stick with it. What evolves is a Clancy-style-thriller with a Stephenson voice, and an unusal storytelling style I'd compare to Terry Prachett.
Reamde is a little quirky, a little funny, and a thriller all at the same time. If this were a movie then it would be described as the love-child of "Snatch" and "Enemy of the State." It's action-oriented but with a wry sense of humor and interesting characters.
If you are a Gamer or a Dev like me, highly recommended light reading. I listened while lying on the beach on my vacation and I couldn't have asked for better.
I decided to download this based on a friends suggestion that I try out some Prachett. I was a little nervous to read one of the billions of discworld books, thinking I might be lost in the story. I wasn't. This book stands completely on it's own -- there's nothing you need to know to follow it.
It's weird, wacky, silly, and exciting. It takes place in a fictional world with technology and society roughly equivalent to the late 1700's Europe -- with the inclusion of supernatural creatures and a little magic. It follows a woman who disguises herself as a man to join the army a la Joan of Arc -- only to discover that the rest of her fellow recruits are all harboring secrets of their own. This sounds like a fairly serious high-fantasy premise -- it's not. If you've never read Terry Prachett i'd say this -- it's closer to Douglas Adams than it is to Tolkien -- and that's a good thing. For instance: The book has vampires, but the vampires are like recovering addicts -- they carry sobriety chips and share openly how long it's been since they've drunk blood.
The book was very entertaining, weird, and very well performed. I would recommend this to any fantasy-reader as well as anybody looking for something lighthearted and entertaining.
I came to this after listening to "The Lords Of Discipline." That was an AMAZING book. This is not.
The characters are strong, but aren't actually given enough to do -- the story has too many elements for a really clean, cohesive narrative structure, and there's a big problem with the book moving from one perspective to many towards the end. There's also pacing problems -- sometimes lots of time is spent on inconsequential things, whereas important things are rushed over.
This is a story about Military Famalies, like the one Pat Conroy grew up in. If you're part of a military family, I suspect you'll get a lot more out of this than I. From a truly outside perspective, I think the subject was perhaps too close to Conroy's life to create a jaw-dropping novel.
Dick Hill's performance is good, but somehow falls short of what it could have been. His voices sometimes fall into caricature instead of landing solidly as characters. There's a lot of great elements here but they don't gel completely. I almost wish Conroy had just written a memoir instead of a novel.
The series greatest strength, it's world, is still intact here. Set in China, this expands the world to include a fake-historical look at China that feels quite well researched and believable. The weakness of the series, character depth, is not patched up very well, unfortunately. Characters are still woefully one-dimensional. Also, there is far less battle in the book, and one of these sorely strains credulity. However, the setting is so enhanced by the anglo-sino culture clash, that this book stands on equal footing with me as the first novel. Again, I'm not sorry I listened, but wouldn't highly recommend either.
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