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I've encountered several novels that have attempted to combine the magic of Fantasy with the style of Western gun-slinging romance, but this is by far the most successful. In most cases, these kind of novels read like what they are, a lumpy hodgepodge of ideas taken from different cultural sources thrown in together. This book is one of a handful where these flavors blend to create a unified whole. It's also much more tightly written than the likes of the Dark Tower saga and unfailingly entertaining throughout. It is the only book I have ever recommended to my Western loving grandfather, my horse loving mother, and my fantasy loving best friend and gotten a universally positive response.
The book's main flaw is that it reads like the second book of a series; it's not. This is a stand alone novel, unless Ms. Bull has written short stories about these characters that I'm unaware of. The main character Jesse and his friend Chow Lung constantly refer back to a shared past the reader knows nothing about. Lung is even written like a cameo character, as if we should all ready know him well. The novel ends before the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral, probably off the assumption that everyone knows what happened there all ready. This does leave us wondering what becomes of the main characters, which isn't by itself a bad thing, but the conclusion comes off as rushed and abrupt.
I read the text version of this book some years ago and had fond memories of it, therefor I was relieved to discover that the readers do it justice. Kate Reading is a perfect choice for Millie and I'm glad they cast a male reader for the places where the narrative switches to Jesse. Reading still has the problem of only having one "voice" for male characters but to be fair Kramer has exactly the same problem with female characters, Kate Holliday and Millie sound exactly the same when he reads them. This is only a minor complaint. The audiobook is a wonderful listen and very entertaining.
There's a lot of reasons to hate this book: the lengthy boring descriptions that never amount to anything, the cardboard characters, the way it hints at interesting ideas without ever exploring them because it's too busy trying to keep to a soap opera style intrigue and provide regular sex scenes.... But those are all meaningless because of the horrible double standard that rears its ugly head right at the beginning of the book. Any male character who so much as looks at a female in a lustful way is an evil lech, but a female character who rapes a young male character is just being a "strong independent woman." Maybe this was a response to the rampant misogyny present in SF written by men, but utter crap like this does not help anyone.
I would not have gotten through this book if I had not been stuck at work. The one good thing to come of it is now I understand a parody SF story Diana Wynne Jones once wrote where she described female hating, coffee obsessed, star pilots with super computers. Now I get it. She nailed it.
After reading Mogworld, I was hopeful that Yahtzee Croshaw would develop into a decent writer. He has made some steps towards refining his technical skills. I noticed less word repetition and fewer abuses of adverbs in dialogue attribution (though they're still there). Unfortunately, this is a book with only one joke and it wears out very fast.
I had the opposite experience with this book as I had with Mogworld. Croshaw's first book starts out slow and stilted and builds into something humorous and meaningful. This book elicits chuckles right away but they quickly subside into a long, awkward silence. Each of the secondary characters has only one trait, a problem that is continuously highlighted by Croshaw's reading as he gives each of them a voice and never, ever varies his delivery to fit the situation. The main character doesn't even get one defining trait. His behavior and abilities are erratic and function as the plot demands. I got the impression that the problem was the character never developed a strong enough voice of his own and so Croshaw kept slipping back into his own voice while trying to write him; hence why he is at times the keen sardonic observer, the moral compass, the clueless idiot, and the selfish bastard with no moral sensibilities at all. All these characteristics could be worked into an arc of some sort but that's not the case here. This is showcased by an early scene in which the main is instructed to save a spider, he lists all the reasons he's not going to do so, then spontaneously changes his mind and becomes powerfully and instantly attached to the stupid thing for no discernible reason. Sometimes the main knows just what to do to save the situation, sometimes he's a helpless bunny, and sometimes he magically knows things he would have no possible way of knowing. It's just bad writing. Also, I finished this book only a few days ago and I can't remember anyone's name except Mary the spider.
This book needed to be half the length. There is no reason for it to go on the way it does repeating the same jokes over and over. There is a sense that this book was only written to cash in on the apocalypse craze and not because Croshaw felt any particular interest in the subject. I can only hope he takes his growing skills and applies them to a subject he cares about. Here's hoping he tries his hand at horror next.
The world described in this book is fascinating, almost even more so than Le Guin's famous Wizard of Earthsea books, which makes it a real shame that we get to spend so little time in it. To be blunt, this program is way overpriced for only five hours. The story in "Gifts" is more like the pilot episode of a TV series than a self contained book. The conflict and moral issues at stake are truly interesting but are resolved in the last 14 minutes of the book with a too convenient death, it is incredibly disappointing, in fact I would go so far as to call it a cop-out.
I was planning to say that I was eager for the continuation of the story surrounding these characters except I made the mistake of immediately purchasing the Voices audiobook, and so I all ready know it's terrible, and fails to address anything brought up in Gifts, though the main characters do feature prominently.
The reader, while not awful, doesn't suit the character behind the first person narrative and that takes a little getting over. Enough so that I would recommend getting the print version of this book if that's an option. He is, however, not nearly as dreadful as the reader of Voices.
The previous book was far too short, this one makes up for the lack by dragging on without really going anywhere (failing to go anywhere might be the actual theme of the story). This book is mostly world building, which normally I like, except nothing much happens in this world until the last third or so of the narrative, when all the conflict gets fortuitously solved by a string of unrealistic events with which our main character has precious little to do. The character is an oracle so her failure to ever do anything is explained as part of her nature, which doesn't make it any less boring.
The main flaw of this book is the main character, whose name I can't remember even though I finished listening to the program yesterday. She has a great deal of ambition and motivation but never acts on any of it. Her role in the book is to simply be present in the city where a revolution (if you can call it that) takes place. Not present at the actual pivotal events of the conflict, oh no, but available to hear about them second and third hand. Except at the "climax" of the book when her voice is used by an oracle, maybe, it's a little unclear.
The reader is bad. Not the worst I've heard by any stretch, but she actively takes away from the story, making it even harder to like the all ready lack luster protagonist. If you're absolutely desperate to find out what happened to the main characters from the last volume, as I was, get this book in paperback, preferably used.
I bought this for the same reason almost every one else purchased it for, I'm a fan of Zero Punctuation. On his blog, Yahtzee wrote that it was really hard to learn to speak slowly again and if you listen to the audio sample you can tell. The narration early on is stilted, as if he's trying to compensate. Likewise, the humor in the beginning is strained and trying too hard. He tends to reuse and abuse his metaphors, and over use words such as "insanely" and "suddenly". Sadly, these and other technical problems appear throughout the book.
However, if you love Yahtzee and are prepared to be both patient and forgiving, this book will reward you in the end. And by patient I mean you need to get through at least the first 3 hours. By that time, Yahtzee's voice has warmed up and the story picks up enough to let the jokes occur more naturally. The main character is endearing and the story amusing and involving. Yahtzee does a good necromancer voice too, though my favorite voice was Slippery John. The ending was appropriately poignant.
This book is better than other first novels by game designers (it made me think of Johannes Cabal: Necromancer). Yahtzee hasn't ascended to the pantheon with Pratchett and Douglas Adams but I will pick up his other book and hope for more author narrated audio books from him in the future.
This audio book commits that cardinal sin of all audio content, the unforgivable, it plays poorly chosen loud interstitial music over the narrator. The upbeat big band music chosen for the dramatic scenes of this book does not fit by any stretch of the imagination and completely ruins the experience. This is definitely a book you need to get in print, give the audio version a wide berth.
Or at least her editor, I presume she has one, should have re-read the previous three books before letting this one go out. This book is plagued by the sort of continuity errors and confusions that I so admired the previous books for avoiding. A good example takes place right at the beginning when Cly meets Mercy for the "first time" even though he's the one who flew her into the city and if he's been visiting as often as he supposedly has it doesn't make sense for him to be meeting her just now. Especially since later in the books he talks about things she's told him, which doesn't make sense if he's only met her once at the beginning of this book.... Ganymede can't even remain consistent with itself let alone the other Clockwork Century novels.
Furthermore the story isn't even good. It's starts out all right but gets steadily worse as the climax of the book approaches. I don't expect anything approaching historical or scientific accuracy in this book but a little common sense would be welcome. Why wouldn't you want sailors on a submarine, at least one person experienced with water and the river and bay you're sailing through? Answer: because that would have meant Priest doing research before writing this book and that's no fun. How come zombies can suddenly be halted by an old woman banging her cane on a lamp post? Answer: Because this is New Orleans and that's how they do it there? I really can't say. Why would you randomly decide to take a detour in a dangerous machine that's drowned all it's previous crews just when it looks like you might make it to safety? Answer: Because you can't have a climax for a book without shoehorning in a battle! And it is shoehorned in, so blatantly I had to quit reading with about 2 hours left to go. The situation as described in the book makes no sense and the characters have absolutely no motivation to behave the way they do. Priest tries to make up some on the spot and so we end up with dialogue that sounds like it comes from a particularly corny movie from the 1950's. Not only does Cly suddenly have to get tossed the idiot ball to make the climax work but an entire invasion of pirates has to be improbably sped up to make it happen on time. I have a suspicion the only reason they weren't refueling at the point when I quit reading (something it had earlier been stated they would do) was to make low fuel an issue at some critical moment in the most ridiculous way possible.
What I admired about Boneshaker was how well the world seemed to work. Nothing seemed forced in just for the sake of novelty or plot convenience. In Ganymede everything happens for the sake of novelty or plot convenience, everything from the super cars the residents of New Orleans drive to the flashlights that are now apparently available in every drug store for a dime. The rogue force of anti-Confederates hiding in the swamp drive what are essentially Hummers simply because Priest thinks it would be cool. Having these kind of vehicles widely available not only doesn't fit with the setting but is impractical since they'd be even more likely to become bogged down in a swamp than a horse. The description of the Texan "crawlers" is even worse, making the book read like an alien invasion novel instead of steam punk.
Ganymede could have been a decent book if any effort at all had been put into either the writing of it or the editing. Since neither Priest or her publisher could be bothered what we have instead is a disappointing mess that the few tidbits we receive about Briar Wilkes's current circumstances do not justify.
I really enjoy Bill Bryson's books. However, his chapter about the Anglo Saxon migration period was so off it made me wonder if he'd done any more recent reading on the subject than whatever was in his grade school textbook. I understand that early English history might be a specialized taste but I feel like a non-fiction writer needs to do more than Google a subject before writing a long chapter about it. This is a little thing perhaps but it did make me doubt the veracity of everything else he's written and cast a pall over this otherwise enjoyable book.
Also I'm not sure Bryson's voice is suitable for a project this long. He tends to swallow his words towards the end of sentences. Though I do enjoy how sometimes he sounds like he's trying not to snicker.
I listened to the first two parts of this three part audio novel and it goes nowhere. I really mean that. The characters stay in the same settings and do nothing at all for the first 10 hours of this book. I like long complex novels that a listener can become truly involved with but this book is not complex, it's just repetitive. By far, the worst part is the piano music. It is even more repetitive than the narration and completely breaks the atmosphere and atmosphere is all this moribund novel has going for it.
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