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I can fit everything that needs to be said about this book into the headline. The premise sounded fascinating and I've enjoyed Stephenson's books in that past, but there is no getting through this one. I'm a pretty patient reader, I like a variety of styles and genres and I hate writing manuals that insist that there's only one way to tell a story, so normally I would avoid passing this kind of judgement but man: this is a book with no hook. There is no way into this story. There is no one interesting character, no driving force of suspense or intrigue, just nothing but mind numbing description, nothing to get a listener through that first hour. I've tried and tried but I just can't. I'd rather listen to the ringing in my ears than this.
This book is so interesting that I can barely find words to summarize it. It defies summation. It convinced me that Ursula K Le Gun truly deserves all the critical praise and adulation. Each of the previous two books in this trilogy had a crucial flaw. In this volume, Le Guin manages to combine the best aspects of Gifts and Voices and leave out all the problems.
Don't go into this book expecting high fantasy adventure or magnificent displays of magical might. This is a book that explores the idea of freedom and self agency (of personal power). It doesn't lecture you. It simply uses every word of its story to reinforce a central idea: if everyone in a society isn't free then no one is truly free.
I remembered not really liking this book as a kid even though I loved The Golden Compass. I had such a hatred for the second and third books that I thought I ought to reread them and see if they were bad as I remembered. The first hour or so wasn't too bad, but just as I began to think I'd overestimated how rotten the book was things plummeted down hill.
First off, it becomes increasingly obvious that Pullman didn't really think through the new developments in the story. He obviously wanted to keep the likes of Lee Scoresby in to add interest, but to do so he has to completely change Lee's motivation. Pullman just hand waves this sudden radical shift away. You can also tell that Will was a late addition in the clumsy way he gets spliced into the Grummond story thread. All this amounts to far too much exposition with none of the fun from the first novel.
Pullman also commits the cardinal sin of becoming so enamored with a new protagonist that he not only allows Will to overshadow Lyra but devotes himself to taking her down a peg. This is the saddest aspect of the Dark Materials trilogy. In the Golden Compass Pullman creates a brilliant, exciting, believable female character. He succeeds so well that he apparently scares himself and spends the next two books making her as cliche a damsel in distress as he can manage. Lyra, who escaped Mrs. Coulter and destroyed Bolvangar and tricked the un-trickable Armored Bears, is tricked repeatedly and loses the Alethiometer and becomes completely dependent on Will for "protection". It turns out her whole quest wasn't to change the world, it was to come help Will fulfill his destiny. He's going to be a man you see so anything he does is automatically more important. It's enough to make me want to puke.
Philip Pullman is a fool who failed to grasp the crux at the root of social commentary. He wants to shine a critical light on religion but fails to do so, instead he imitates it and his story falls into the same tired patterns. It's like he didn't understand that by basing his story around Christian dogma he was going to have to make the Bible story the bedrock of his novel, the given that allows the hypothesis. This is not the way to go about things. I saw that when I was 12, and now more than a decade later I have the words to explain it.
If angels are beings of pure spirit, why do they have gender?
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'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.
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.
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