Since it's the first contemporary work of Sanderson's that I've tried, I didn't know what to expect. I knew to expect something much shorter than his 500+ page behemoths, but not much beyond that.
And what a pleasant surprise! Legion is a schizophrenic and knows it. Not only that, he uses his "hallucinations" to help him in detective work, which is interesting and fun. He has a dark-ish sort of humor that is fun to listen to in audio format, and each of the characters (hallucinatory or otherwise) has an individual character and voice that makes them easily recognizeable.
There isn't much that I can really say about it other than that it was really great. Sanderson proves once again that he is one of the best writers around now, not just in the Fantasy genre.
It's hard to review a book that I had so many misconceptions about when I picked it up. I knew it is considered a great piece of sci-fi, but was really shocked by the huge departure that the filmmakers took from Asimov's original vision.
Forget all the action sequences. Forget everything you've seen in contemporary science fiction, because I, Robot is not it. Perhaps that story gets told in later books in the series, but I don't know. But what we have in this book is definitely the beginnings of that modern sci-fi. We don't get gigantic space battles or epic conflicts between man and machine. What we do get is mining on asteroids and Mercury. We get the progression of technology. We get a lot of the basic ideas that later SF authors capitalized on. The saying is that "If I see far, it's because I stand on the shoulders of giants." Well, Asimov is certainly a giant, and it's easy to see why. This book was published in 1950, and the technological ideas in it are incredible. I don't doubt that a lot of scientists and modern roboticists have taken at least some inspiration from this novel. The writing is good, and keeps you moving along despite the fact that there is relatively little conflict within the book.
A few of the characters kind of fell flat for me. A lot of them were smart, but one seemed like he was belligerent the entire time, while another balanced him as the voice of reason. The robo-psychologist got thrown into the middle of it, and she seemed to have next to no emotion at all, except for a certain point. So...yeah. Characters feel a little two-dimensional. But hey, it was the '50s.
This two-dimensionality isn't helped at all by the narration. The performance was so wooden, the narrator could be nicknamed "oak." I'm sure he's not a bad narrator--I enjoyed the book, after all. But there was a distinct lack of emotional range whenever anything happened in the book. Granted, the book doesn't have much emotional dynamism either, but I feel that Scott Brick really missed a chance to help the text feel even more interesting.
Another thing that pulled me out was the date. Apparently, we have the option to study robo-psychology in universities, but I never knew about it. In 1950, the great leaps that technology was taking probably made it seem like a positronic brain was attainable in the late 1970s, but, well... I'm just going to stick to waiting for the flying cars.
I don't often listen to audiobooks while I'm spending time at home with the family, but this is one case where I couldn't help myself. I first heard about The Hunger Games when Catching Fire came out and I saw it all over the university's campus. Everybody had their nose in these books! My wife got into them, and then the movie came out, and I knew it was just a matter of time before I cleared enough time to read it, too. And I'm glad I did.
The tone of this book is exactly what I had expected. Dark. Sad. Terrifying. The entire premise of the book is so intense that you can't help but be intrigued by it--I guess that's the whole point of the dystopian sub-genre. In case you're one of the three people that don't know, the idea behind this book is that after a quashed rebellion, the Capital forces the twelve districts to give one boy and one girl as tribute in the annual Hunger Games, where they all kill each other as it's broadcast across the nation. Whoa. I know that idea has come up in literature in the past, but I don't think any do it this well.
If you've read my reviews in the past, you know this is usually where I talk about character. Well, you're right. They're deep, but you can tell that they are written and geared toward readers that aren't quite fully mature in the emotional department. They're well written, but you can tell that the main character is 16 and has kind of disconnected herself from her emotions. Given the themes in the book, it's easy to see why.
One of the things that struck me as odd--not bad, just odd--about this book is that it was written in first-person, present-tense. For those of you who don't speak literature nerd, that translates as "I go to the bush, and pull off some berries. I roll them around in my fingers..." and so on. This is not the norm. The most common thing (in sci-fi/fantasy especially) is third-person limited. After reading so much in that style, The Hunger Games kind of threw me for a loop until I got used to it. But once I was used to it, it was really hard for me to listen to this and try to read Robert Jordan's Crossroads of Twilight, which I'm about halfway through. It was just too jarring a transition.
The narration was one of the things that helped me along in the transition in style. She sounds a lot like a confused teenage girl, which fits the character perfectly. It's probably not the voice you'd want for an extremely confident character, but it's just right for Katniss. Sometimes the cadence of the performance would seem a little odd, but it wasn't overly distracting.
Despite the surprisingly different style and tone, I absolutely loved this book. It's not that heady, but you get the sense that there is a lot more to the world that you can explore. There's more to learn and experience...if you can survive long enough.
And now I can finally say this: May the Odds be ever in your favor.
I was quite impressed with Theft of Swords. Despite some minor shortcomings, the story and characters are compelling, which are the two most important factors in any book for me.
The story is a fairly common one: a fantasy setting, which revolves around a small group of people living outside the law. They get called on for a job, which turns out to be much more than they bargained for. Pretty basic. I believe I heard somewhere that this is actually two smaller books put together, and you can certainly tell, but I'll touch on that later. The two stories that Theft of Swords tells are both interesting and we can tell that there is something larger that will happen in future installments.
Characters are good. They're not one-dimensional, but I don't think I would really go so far as to say that they are fully fleshed out and realized. It could be that the author didn't feel it necessary to go into details, and it could be that he wants to keep us guessing as to the origins of certain characters. In either case, it doesn't make much of a difference since that's not what is keeping our attention.
As mentioned earlier, the downsides are fairly minor. Since it feels like two different books combined into one, the transition between the two can be a little jarring. It's kind of like the first story was to test the waters so the author could tell if it was going to be successful. It is a complete story in and of itself, but leaves a few questions unanswered, which allowed for a sequel--in this case, the second half. That's one thing that I noticed as being a little odd. The second and more pervasive is the world itself. My wife said that it felt like somebody's tabletop RPG in book form--I wouldn't go that far, but I will say that the world feels like a carbon copy of Dungeons and Dragons. Elves, dwarves, magic and all the bells and whistles seem essentially untouched as far as the basics of each, and the only thing that is different is the relations between each group. Except for elves and dwarves. They always hate each other. This can be particularly irritating to a nerd like me, because many of the revelations that are supposed to be shocking in later chapters are all things that I guessed halfway through. Once we were both done, I told my wife that I had such-and-such figured out before I started the second half, and she was shocked. But then again, she never really played D&D.
The narration is good. There was nothing particularly outstanding about the performance, other than the fact that the main characters' voices fit their personalities: one is quite warm and outgoing, while the other is more of the brooding, I'll-look-at-you-from-the-safety-of-my-cloak type.
In all, there are more pros than cons to this book. But the size of each is the reason I feel good in giving Theft of Swords four stars. It's entertaining and moves quickly. You won't find any mind-shatteringly new ideas or worlds like are fairly prevalent in the Fantasy genre nowadays. Just the tried and true stuff.
A History of Warfare is probably one of the most interesting (and dense) nonfiction books I've read, even considering all the ones I read during my years in college. John Keegan is able to paint a fairly good picture of where aggression--warfare, as we call it now--came from by analyzing the findings of anthropologists studying tribal people. He is then able to move us forward by logically filling in the gaps between that stage and the point where recorded history begins. All of this is done in a very academic way, which makes for a very interesting read, but perhaps one that is a little over-complicated.
As I went through the book, there were a few flaws that I noticed, though. Most of these revolve around the overall Euro-centric viewpoint adopted by the author. Even though he refers to archaeology done in southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle-east and South America, he tends to skim over the intracacies of these cultures and focuses on how they relate to European war-making. This Euro-centricity is pervasive, but not necessarily surprising considering his background and the declared aims of the book. That aim is basically to refute the claim in Carl von Clausewitz's claim in On War that "War is a continuation of politics by other means." I was convinced by the time I finished the book, but it almost felt as though Keegan was beating the reader over the head with his point.
The second point I need to bring up is the use of language. This book is not for a casual reader. It is probably required reading in some universities, and the language reflects that level. I listened to the audiobook, and I probably listened to the entire book one and a half times, because I had to hit the rewind button so many times. It is interesting. It is a very good read. But it is very dense. Anyone who does not have a university degree might find themselves scratching their heads at some of the writing, unless the reader is very accustomed to heavy academic writing.
As for the narration, it moved along at a brisk pace (read: a little on the fast side.) Mr. Stuart reads as if he's a university professor giving a lecture, which is easy on the ears, but a little hard on the brain. If you can sit and listen with little to no distraction, you won't notice any issues. But if you're like me and your attention is grabbed by things on your commute, you might want to be careful about this one. It's written in such a way that if your mind wanders for a few seconds, you might have missed something important.
That being said, I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It brought up a lot of points that I had never considered before, and conveyed a strong message about what warfare has become and why.
On Basilisk Station is probably one of the very best sci-fi books I've read in a while, and that's saying quite a bit. It's more in the realm of hard sf than I'm used to, but I have to admit that the stronger presence of science didn't interfere at all. The writing is tight, events move quickly and the characters are all interesting. It's a tribute to the author that some of the most tense scenes in the book are when Captain Harrington is having a meeting with an antagonist and the scene with members of the crew are just as exciting. There is no wasted time or effort in this book, just good writing.
The main criticism I have for this book is the narrator. Allyson Johnson may not be the voice of Siri (the assistant on the iPhone), but she sounds pretty danged close. Her performance is stiff, awkward and the phrasing is bad. I look at the series, and find that I get depressed when I see that Johnson narrates pretty much all of them. The book is great. The narration... let's just stick with the book, shall we?
As I said, pretty much everything in this book shines. The events don't necessarily keep you guessing as to what's going on, but there's enough intrigue there to keep it interesting until the end. The only criticism that I've heard of it (from my wife) is that there is some harsh language in it. I didn't count, but when something gets really tense, characters aren't against dropping the f-bomb, which might put some people off. I'm not one of those people. But it's a caution you might want to keep in mind if you are. That being said, this is also a story about military stuff, so there's going to be some literary blood and gore. Again, if you're not put off by it, go nuts. It's a great read, and one that you won't regret diving into.
Before I go any further, I just want to say that it's fun having Ocean's Eleven done Star Wars-style. Refreshing!
Anyway, I think that sums up the basic plot. Han Solo gets hired for a heist, he gets a crew together, a bunch of stuff goes wrong, and they try to steal a whole bunch of credits so they can all retire and live peacefully for a really long time. Sounds simple.
It's not. Timothy Zahn adds a whole bunch of layers to the mix, and makes the whole idea much more interesting. The story takes place shortly after Star Wars: A New Hope, so we know that the three main characters (Han, Chewie and Lando) come through alive, but the book is so tense and well-written that you start having to reassure yourself once in a while. New characters are fun and interesting, while old characters (Lando!!) are spot-on.
I was a little concerned when I learned that Marc Thompson was the narrator--I'd listened to his reading of Fatal Alliance, and...well, let's just say that I was less than impressed. But he must have been practicing. Maybe it was the writing or characterization in Fatal Alliance that made the performance seem lacking, but Thompson is in fine form for Star Wars: Scoundrels. There are probably in excess of 20 characters in the book, and each one of them had an individualized voice that was immediately recognizeable (save for a pair of twins).
Probably not. The characters aren't particularly memorable, and I basically wanted to give it a try to see if I liked John Scalzi's writing. After reading, I decided to go ahead and read Redshirts, which is a much better gauge of his actual talent.
I wouldn't really compare it to anything. It's obviously a play on the idea of the A-Team, but with the less-than-obvious (or competent) choices for the roles they're in. The sci-fi-ness is fun, but not particularly fantastic.
The narrator. He just didn't have that ... stuff ... that makes a good narrator into a fantastic one.
No. It was average all-around.
I'd recommend listening to something else by John Scalzi if you're not completely turned off by this one. If you really don't like it, you're probably not going to like his other stuff. But if you have a so-so reaction like I did, there's a chance that you could really enjoy his other work.
I have been told that John Scalzi is a really funny guy, but with a quirky style. I never realized how true word of mouth could possibly be. Redshirts was hilarious, but at the same time was able to be profound.
To summarize, the book centers around Andrew Dahl, an ensign aboard the USS Intrepid. But something strange is going on with the ship and crew. Everybody seems to be terrified of going on away missions, because each time, at least one crew member is killed, but the captain, his first officer, science officer and the handsome lieutenant are somehow never on the KIA list. This in and of itself is enough to make any fan of Star Trek: the Original Series giddy with excitement. Even less-than-stalwart trekkies like myself are apt to laugh out loud when something happens that you can picture happening to Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy or Cmdr. Spock. The book is organized such that the "novel" section takes up the first 2/3 of the book, then this is followed by the three codas, each of which follow one of the characters we meet in the novel. Pop culture references abound, and give the book an interesting feel--you feel like this could actually be what future space exploration is like.
Strong points of this book are the ideas. They're hilarious, and executed well. Characters are largely believable, and you really start to identify with each one of them as they come into their own. The entire book treads a fine line between humor and profundity with such skill that you literally can laugh and cry while reading/listening to it. I listened to the audiobook, and there was a point where I could almost hear the narrator (Wil Wheaton) getting choked up. I don't mind saying that tears were streaming down my face. It was that good.
Points of criticism: there are two that jump out at me. First, if you get offended easily by the f-word, don't read Redshirts. As awesome as the book is, Scalzi uses it enough that you're going to be distracted and offended quite often. Second and more distracting for me is the He said/She said dialog. While this might not be as big an issue when reading the print version, it was ANNOYING while listening to the audiobook. I've seen some reviewers recommend Scalzi invest in a thesaurus. I don't think this will help. Here's an example, with some random dialog (not from the book):
"I don't think that's a good idea," Dahl said.
"Why not?" Karenski asked.
"Because I don't think it'll work," Dahl said.
"It won't," (other crewman) said.
"It can't," (fourth crewman) said.
I know. Bad example. But this should be enough to get the point across. He writes a short sentence, and follows it with who said it. It's not that it's wrong, but it gets on your nerves after hearing five minutes of short sentences followed with "(crewman) said." If things like that don't bother you, congratulations! You've got a great read ahead of you. If it does bother you...the rest of the book is good enough to override those short-ish lapses into he-said-she-said dialog.
I'm sitting here wondering what I can possibly say in regard to Les Misérables, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed. I finished listening to the audiobook last night, and am still reeling from everything the book said and means. That being said, I'll give it my best shot. But I'll give you a warning up front: this is a long, profound book. So I'll have to write a long review to express my thoughts on it. Even so, I feel like I'm just scratching the surface.
I'll start with the Audible stuff: as a translator myself, I know how difficult Julie Rose's job was, especially with a book of this magnitude. She had to get into Hugo's brain and express the story so that English speakers could understand and appreciate the tone and atmosphere of Hugo's world correctly. While doing this, she had to be invisible and let Hugo tell the story. It's a very fine line to walk, and she did a fantastic job with it. George Guidall did excellently in his narration--each character was distinct, and their voices changed depending on their point in life, while remaining individual. Wow.
Now on to the book itself.
Les Miserables is known as one of the cornerstones of European literature--I don't think anybody will dispute that. However I think that many people are only exposed to the story through the stage version, and never really consider trying to takle the book. In many ways, I understand this. The book is LONG. The audiobook version is over 60 hours, and most print versions are well into the 1,100+ page range. Not for the faint-hearted. But people that limit themselves to only experiencing the musical version are not only putting a cap on their enjoyment of the story, but are also limiting their intellectual growth.
I'm not saying that reading this book will make you smarter, but I am saying that reading (or listening to) Les Miserables will make you think about things you've probably never considered before, and not all of those things are good. The book is dark. The book is sad. The things that happen to the characters will tear your heart out and make you want to strangle somebody at the same time. I finished listening on my commute home, and I started crying on the platform at Ueno Station in Tokyo.
Becky (my wife for those of you reading this who don't know) has frequently said that she feels that Victor Hugo was inspired as he wrote this. I can't disagree. Any book that can have such a profound impact on both the guy listening in Tokyo as well as the world has to have something more than literary genius going on. I can honestly say that having read this, I feel like I am a better person for having read (listened) to Les Miserables.
Now for the nitty-gritty. One of the ways that Hugo can do what he does is by putting characters in conflict with one another. Not just that, but he also pits one aspect of a character against another, which makes for some very interesting storytelling. The innate goodness of Jean Valjean against Javert's loyalty to justice. The greed of Mr. Thenardier against the generosity of ... pretty much anyone.
A couple things to know if you are about to embark on this: the book is not written like ones we are used to nowadays. It was even considered old-fashioned when it was published. There are times when Hugo devotes a significant amount of time to describing an event that--let's be honest--has little bearing on the story overall; the Battle of Waterloo and the importance of slang among them. He also goes on diatribes about how important certain ideas are, or how base certain thinking is. Dialog generally isn't dialog, but rather are extended sililoquy directed at another character, after which the speaking character will do something. It's not often that you actually have two characters interacting like normal people. Instead, one character will stand in front of the other for a good thirty or forty minutes spouting off whatever comes to their mind, never really breaking of save for breath. It can grate against our modern reader-ey sensibilities, but you can deal with it.
One thing that I felt was interesting was that the first half of the book sets up the second half, in that it provides a powerful reason for all of the characters to end up in the same place. It provides background for their actions and gives us an emotional attachment to them (good or bad) that we can build on. And those attachments are strong, let me tell you.
In a nutshell, if you are a fan of the musical version of Les Miserables but haven't read the book, you are limiting yourself. I don't have anything against the musical, but there is so much more to the story than you get from seeing it on stage (or in theaters/on DVD now.) I've only listened to the musical once before, and I saw the Albert Hall version on DVD, but I didn't really understand what was going on. That version has new life for me now, because I actually know these characters. I know their struggles, backgrounds and the grinding sadness and poverty that is keeping them enslaved. As I said before, this book has made me a better person, and has the potential to change a person's life.
If I could sum this book up in one word: funny. Not just funny, but it was fun to listen to. I really enjoy the film, but I was surprised at the book; it's like the folks at DreamWorks read the blurb on the book, took the character names and made up their own story. Please remember that. The book and the film are COMPLETELY different!
I'm not really sure what to say about the book though. I have a hard time discussing children's lit, because I don't really know much about the ins and outs of the genre. The writing was good, but there were a lot of adverbs and contemporary references. I guess this fits with the "translated-ness" of the book. The author says that she translated it from the Old Norse, and that it was written by Hiccup Haddock Horrendous III, so I can forgive that. Plus, since it's written for kids, I have to assume that contemporary references were for their sakes. That was the only thing that bothered me; kids are smart. I felt like references to flourescent lights and such dumbed the text down. But it's still a really solid, fun book to listen to.
That being said, I found out after I listened to this version that David Tennant also did a recording. I've got Doctor Who on the brain, and it would have been awesome to hear him read something like this. The version I listened to was great, though.
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