I enjoyed this book, but I found it to be uneven. The author tells the story episodically, focusing in turn on several characters. The first part off the book focuses on the Dutchmen Jacob and the trading factory at Nagasaki. I found the characters and plot very engaging. Then he shifts gears to focus for the most part on the Japanese characters in another subplot. There is a necessary change of pace when going from a bustling seaport to a monastery, but I found that the book became significantly less engaging through about the middle third of the recording. Like everything was at one remove. The artistic intent was there, but at times it felt contrived & too slow. The plot elements and characters are in place, but the author didn't draw me in the way he had earlier in the novel. Then in the last third of the novel, the vigor came back.
There were a couple of places in the recording where there were silent gaps of up to a minute that made me wonder if parts of the book were unintentionally omitted in the recording and editing process. There is a much anticipated taiphoon that is not described. Audible should review these recordings from start to finish before they are posted for download.
A more believable and complex main character, any developed black characters at all, and not so many unlikely coincidences. (See my comments below.)
More Cornwell but not another book in the Starbuck series. It appears the author lost interest too. After 4 volumes that only got as far as Antietam, he stopped writing more installments in the series in 1996. Maybe he just gave up on trying to make an unbelievable main character believable.
Tom Parker's performance was first rate, bringing a wide variety of characters to life.
Interesting historical detail & some engaging characters, other than the main one.
I am totally unconvinced after hearing two books in this series that the main character, Nate, given his background as the son of an abolitionist preacher and divinity student, would choose to fight for the South, especially after being brutally tortured by them. At one point, he mows down Yankees from his home town, Boston. His reasons and motives for doing so, when they are given at all, are thin and inconsistent with the rest of his character and experience. Simply saying he just had a "rebel streak," was a thoughtless kid or liked the guys he fought with doesn't cut it. Yes, there were Northern Copperheads who joined the South, but this one comes across as more of a convenient plot device than a real person. I just didn't find Nate Starbuck to be believable. Worse, he was often dull!
Also, through a wide variety of pretty well drawn characters from different social classes, the author tries to show what it was actually like to live in the South (not just on the battlefield) during the Civil War. That's commendable, but the problem is that none of these characters are black. I'm not just trying to be "politically correct" here. IMO, given the subject matter of the book, the choices made by the main character and the author's conscious development of many other Southerners, that's a huge, inexplicable, omission. Slavery is periodically deplored in the abstract. Contrary to old time conventional thinking, some Yankee characters don't mind it while some Southerners have no use for it (both of which are true), but slaves themselves appear for the most part as colorful backdrops. None of their characters or thoughts are developed over time or in detail. It's like Tom & Huck with no Jim.
I certainly don't believe the author condones slavery, but I thought he was superficial, uncomfortable and unconvincing in dealing with it. I came away wondering if he was concerned about turning off some potential readers (and losing sales), so he awkwardly danced around the issue. And BTW, I spent several of my teen and university years as a Northern transplant happily growing up South of the Mason Dixon line. I still love the South, I just didn't care for this book.
Beyond that, I found the unlikely (non-historical) coincidences in the lives of the characters that often propelled the plot were beyond belief, even for popular fiction. And, the author spends too much time dallying with some of the peripheral characters (none of whom are black), stalling the plot.
I am a fan of Stephenson's work, although I couldn't get through "Baroque."
I think there is more to this book than some other reviewers are crediting. It's not especially profound, but the author is dealing with some larger cultural and creative themes that are deeper than the usual techno/sf thriller. There's a thematic interplay between the 9/11 terrorist type plot and the cyber gaming plot that add an extra dimension. (My extended English lit analysis is mercifully omitted here.) And there's a fair amount of affectionate humor in parodies of the quirks of role playing cyber gaming, survivalists, corporate culture, IT system administrators, and sf/ fantasy writers. Its broad humor in a sort of Thomas Pynchon, picaresque way.
The books narrative style is both a blessing and a curse. It's like having a chatty geek character from "The Big Bang Theory" constantly buzzing in your ear, who is stricken with a form of Techno Tourettes syndrome that causes them to blurt out mostly interesting abstract theoretical analysis of everything that is going on. This can be entertaining at times, but can be a real momentum killer during the books many complex action scenes, which often take place along multiple plot lines simultaneously. If that sounds complicated, it is, sometimes to a fault. It's not Peckinpaw slow motion action, it's just occasionally pedantic and complex for its own sake. There were times I wished the author & characters would just stop analyzing and move the plot to the next scene. I listened at double speed.
Stephanson has a real facination with geology and geography that turn up in odd places. There are plot side trips to the Phillipines that I think take place there mostly because the author finds that country interesting. This book would have benefited from some judicious editing.
The characters are pretty stock, but for the most part I found them entertaining. The one exception was the villain, Abdullah Jones, who I found to be a theoretical construct who never really came to life, but that wasn't a deal killer.
Not a great book, but if you are a Stephenson fan and are familiar with his style, I think you'll enjoy it.
I give this book 5 stars for content, but the author's amateurish narration only gets 1-2. On the plus side, I found this true story told by a skillful (and admittedly somewhat foolhardy) American working as a first time reporter in Japan engrossing. The author takes you inside the workings of Japanese journalism, culture, and the operations of yakuza organized crime syndicates. Mr Adelstein is often brutally honest about himself. His brave reporting of Yakuza exploitation in the face of personal risk is a public service. I found the content of the book both educational and dramatically engaging in the way one would hope from this kind of expose. Unfortunately, the author is a much better writer than narrator of spoken word audio. In my past, I produced hundreds books on tape for national publishers. I learned the hard way that authors, unless they also happen to be actors or professional broadcasters, seldom are any good at reading their own material because narrating and writing are two entirely different skills. Mr. Adelstein's reedy, sotto vocce narration style is just plain amateurish and sometimes hard to understand, especially at "faster" speed on my Ipod. He often falls into a repetitively droning rising and falling cadence that has little to do with the dramatic content of each sentence. He does not enunciate very clearly and occasionally swallows words. This book would have been much more enjoyable if it had been read by an experienced professional narrator who could really bring out the dramatic sense of the work. I suspect the audio publisher figured they could save time and money in the recording studio because the author would know the correct pronunciation of Japanese names and expressions. It was not worth the trade off. The result is barely adequate -- just acceptable enough to get me through the book. I did not listen to the sample recording under the Audible listing. I suggest you do so before downloading this book.
Lisbeth Salander is a wonderful creation. I hope we see her again soon.
This book has a split personality. On one hand is a (slim) hard SF novel with some very inventive twists and ideas. On the other hand is a (long) drawn out soap opera acted out by a cast of stock characters I didn't particularly care for. (Does SF really need another control freak billionaire meddling in space?)
The fatal flaw in this novel is that the people stuff and the gearhead SF stuff are very poorly integrated. It's like the author is jumping back and forth between two plot lines, with the people stuff serving largely as filler. Yes, the characters are effected by the cosmic events, but I was never convinced that they were much more than plot fodder.
There are times when the narrator, perhaps fearing boredom, comes right out and baits the hook, telling the listener that, after another soap slog, they will be rewarded by another SF revelation. The author rations out the inventive SF stuff in small portions to keep the reader interested. No doubt producing a "Big" novel was a primary goal for the author. The SF part got short changed and the people stuff is amateurish melodrama. This novel really needs lots of cuts, but the author was looking for lots of pages.
I found the first half of the book to be particularly slow and a real trial to get through, even listening at high speed on my iClick. The second half was marginally better, but didn't deliver nearly enough to save the book.
IMO, good SF integrates the people stuff and the gear head stuff. If you want to listen to a book from Audible that does this (and has plenty of big ideas), check out Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars."
I found this book to be both "a good read," and a profound piece of literature -- memorable and rewarding on a number of levels. That doesn't happen very often these days within the pages of the same novel. I can understand why some listeners may not feel the same about it -- it's not conventional in the sense that everything is not laid out in a straight line, at or near the surface, and all the loose ends are not tied up by a happy ending. After all, it's set in and around the Vietnam War. (Plenty of dark humor though.) A number of plots and subplots are interwoven to produce a work that is more than the sum of it's parts. The author credits the reader with the ability to think and apply their own intelligence, reflection and insight to the proceedings. My only regret is that more of Mr. Johnson's work isn't available on Audible, so I will have to buy his other books on Amazon to read them.
I enjoyed this book as a "page turner" pure & simple. The kind of book that would make two days snowed in in O'Hare airport bearable. The author is a studied master of the techniques of the potboiler. I found few surprises though. The plot either takes the obvious turn, or the author gives us plenty of foreshadowing. It's kind of silly that events that are so easily predicted by the listener come as such complete surprises to the characters.
The fun is in the full blooded, if often cliche ridden, characters, a propulsive plot that leans heavily on revenge, and the authors infectious enthusiasm for Gothic churches and the monastic life. There are several strong female characters -- always a pleasure. Humor too, but some of it is unintentional. I found myself laughing out loud at dialog that was very, very corny, even by pulp fiction standards.
I was surprised to read that this book is an Oprah Book Club Selection. I thought the detailed description of the gang rape of one of the young, buxom heroines early in the book by the evil villain and his surly minions crossed the line from a plot necessary depiction of outrageous behavior to prurient titillation. That's a common convention in "bodice ripper" romance novels. ("What he did to her was terrible, but please don't spare me the intimate details.") The act itself is pivotal to the plot, but I thought the schlock merchant in Follett won out in this episode and lowered him a notch in my estimation. Not that he would care & would probably deny it, but his calculated intent seemed obvious to me.
There are a number of more benign explicit descriptions of sex in the book, no doubt fueling it's popularity. Not that long ago they would have been considered sensational -- but not any more.
Was this book worth 2 credits to me? No,I was disappointed.
My primary reason for listening was to combine a deeper understanding of early roman history with a good, immersive (20 hours)listen. While the author conscientiously (& at times too methodically) catalogs the development of roman institutions and customs over a millennia and is decent at retelling legends, I found he came up short in too many areas.
First, for the most part, his Roma develops in a vacuum. Little is said of the Etruscans or relations with other states, or how the city state grew. This is not an academic history, but everything has context. Many of the characters are prominent citizens who would be directly involved in great events. These characters are essentially not allowed beyond the city gates -- even in their heads. Foggy, disjointed history.
All things military are marginalized. Forget about battles or campaigns. The Gauls and Hannibal put in very brief appearances. More importantly, Rome was a martial society. Training started at an early age. There was no standing army so all able bodied citizens had to serve in the legions, effecting every family. Wars were frequent, yet very little is said of the development of the army and it's role in society. I'm not looking for a sword and sandals blood fest, but this "Roma" is significantly out of balance with history.
Finally, I found many of the characters disappointingly flat. Sulla is a nasty cardboard caricature. Caesar's brilliance is not shown when he speaks. Ditto Scipio. (The author tries to convey talent or charisma through a cataloging of a character's achievements or by mining clever lines from Suetonius. His own dialog can't reach such heights.)
The book has some moments, but the author got locked into an regular pace, like he had his outline and was word processing away.I found myself looking at my IPod regularly, hoping I was about to reach the end. Stick with Colleen Mcculloug
This one is squarely in the the colorful, gossipy Roman tradition of Robert Graves & Colleen Mccullough. Political intrigue combined with courtroom drama and a fully realized cast of historic characters are are hard to beat. A very effective narration too. You don't have to be the Pontifex Maximus to predict there will be more volumes in this story. I look forward to them.
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