I once heard a movie critic say of one of the Jurassic Park movies that you if you go to a movie like that to get complex characters and deep, philosophical discussions on the nature of God, you’re going for the wrong reasons and you are going to be disappointed. You go to see dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs.
That’s how I felt about this movie—excuse me, book. It was everything a thriller should be. The hero was a brick who could hold his own in just about any fight, but had enough of a brain to wonder occasionally about what all the killing was doing to his psyche. The black hat had understandable motives for trying to unleash a zombie plague and had his own trials to overcome. There was a bit of a love interest. And there were zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. The pacing was terrific, the bon mots made me smile and the whole thing was so visual that it was easy to see how this would make a great movie. Listening to it as an audio book performed by Ray Porter was the perfect way to experience this adventure. I’ve started to get used to the way many of the best audiobook performers can switch accents seamlessly, but Porter really amazed me when he nailed the voice for the protagonists’ best friend, who is described in the book as sounding like “a young Raul Julia.” An all-around fun listen that will not disappoint anyone looking to be entertained.
Since I recently read The Great Gatsby for the first time, I found myself comparing the two books and found Age of Innocence easily the winner on all counts. Both deal with the lives and social mores of the idle rich in American society, albeit during slightly different time periods. But Wharton, it seems to me, is much more adept at hinting at the emotions that seethe beneath the practiced, calm surface displayed by the characters. Her characters felt much more fully alive to me, and the situations much more realistic. The cutting sarcasm of the double-entendres made me laugh out loud many times, as she skewered the holier-than-thou attitudes of both the men and women in the tale. And like many of the very best books, this one still resonates today. We may not ostracize divorcees or the artsy crowd as overtly as they did in the 1870’s, but still, we righteously protect institutions like matrimony (c.f. fight over gay marriage) and look down our noses at anyone who is slightly different (is that a nose-ring I see?). The resolution of the book is not what I expected, and the masterful way Wharton brought this tale to an end is what elevated it to 5 stars for me. [N.B. I listened to this as an audiobook read by David Horovitch. His British accent was a bit jarring at first, considering this is an American novel, but he performed the characters with an American accent so after a while I got used to it and was able to submerse myself in the world of the book].
This is the fourth book by China Miéville that I have read and I continue to be amazed at his complete control over the English language. In this re-imagining of Moby Dick, he sounds like a completely different writer from the one who wrote Embassytown and The City and the City. It is obvious that this was done on purpose. The prose is choppy and harsh. New words are coined and the only clues to their meaning are in the narrative itself. At least one character’s name is an anagram of the corresponding character in Moby Dick (Abacat Naphi = Captain Ahab).
I have always had the idea that Miéville is trying his hand at every genre he can think of. If that is true, then this is not only his attempt at a classic hero myth saga but also his entry in the steampunk category. The hero myth works pretty well, with the young male protagonist braving the dangers of a hellish landscape in an attempt to arrive at “heaven” and learning about himself along the way. Meant as a young adult novel, I guess it works but there were many times when I felt the language and complexity of the story was far beyond anything most ‘tween readers would be able to parse. I would therefore recommend this book for an older reader, 14 or 15 years of age or older.
Where I really thought the book shone was in the setting. While not overly obvious, the steampunk flavor of the book was clear from the descriptions of the trains and the Captain’s mechanical arm, to mention only two. It was this technology, which grew more and more recognizable as the book hurtled along, that kept the setting grounded for me. Miéville has created a world so strange that at times I had to wonder if he had gone a bit too far, but there were just enough signposts to keep me from completely losing my bearings amidst the desolate wastes and the never-ending rails (Streggye = Easter Island? I think so, because supposedly Moby Dick was partially based on a real whale named Mocha Dick that was killed off Mocha Island, near Chile and not that far from Easter Island. Thus the frequent mention of the Stone Faces in Railsea refer to the stone heads on Easter Island).
The final payoff, with its sly critique of modern capitalism, was highly satisfying, while leaving the door open for a possible sequel. While I wait, I think I’ll go download an audio version of Moby Dick and see what inspired this fabulous fable. [I listened to Railsea as an audio book narrated by Jonathan Cowley in what I believe was a splendid Manchester accent that really lent grit to the tale].
When I purchased this from Audible, I didn't realize I was getting not only "Fuzzy Nation" by John Scalzi, but also "Little Fuzzy" by H.Beam Piper. I knew the Scalzi effort was a re-working of the story told in Little Fuzzy, but had not intended to read the older book at all. But I am grateful that someone (Audible?) packaged the two books together, which gave me a chance to compare and contrast. So here are my two reviews:
1) Fuzzy Nation. After my husband and I finished listening to this book (read wonderfully by Wil Wheaton) we tried to think of another book that had been re-written, and couldn’t. Movies get remade all the time, and plays get new productions, but novels? John Scalzi’s characteristic wit is evident in this remake of the book “Little Fuzzy” but I have a hard time giving much more than three stars to a book that is so obviously derivative of another work. Also, a large portion of the book was spent in a courtroom and got a bit drawn out at the end.
Once I listened to Little Fuzzy, I realized the Scalzi book was pretty much a straight retelling of this story. It was interesting to see a few of the novelistic choices Scalzi made to update the tale, such as making the protagonist much younger and giving him a dog as his best buddy, both of which were good choices, in my opinion. He also zeroed in a bit more on the corporate-industrial complex and its sinister motives. But, as in “Little Fuzzy,” he kept the main focus on the question of what is sentience.
2) Little Fuzzy. I would give “Little Fuzzy” four stars vs. three for Scalzi’s version because I prefer the way it examined the question of how sentience might be defined; I think it may be one of the earliest novels to deal with the subject. As I was listening to this novel I couldn’t help but think about “Measure of a Man” (one of my favorite Star Trek TNG episodes) in which Data, an android, must prove he is sentient . . . not as easy as you might imagine. Without getting into spoilers, I’ll simply say that in “Little Fuzzy” the status of the fuzzies’ sapience is more ambiguous and therefore more interesting to think about than the way they were portrayed by Scalzi.
As I read (or more precisely, listened to) Sebastian Barry’s novel, I had trouble putting my finger on just what I didn’t like about it. I did like the form of the novel, a sort of diary written by an old woman in which she looks back at her long life. I really loved the way Barry described people, for instance, a man operating a ride at an amusement park was described as someone who “hadn’t had his ears pinned down properly.” Cassie, the protagonist’s best friend, was described as a woman who would have looked good as the figurehead on the prow of a ship.
But there was an emptiness at the heart of the novel that left me cold and toward the end I figured out what it was. Barry created a female protagonist who is an idealized, impossible, saint of a woman. She is misused by every man in her life, and yet cannot stop herself from catering to their every whim and forgiving them for every wrong. This is probably Barry’s idea of the perfect mother, someone who will not mind it when the son/grandson that she has formed her life around shuts her out, disappears, ignores and shuns her. She somehow perseveres through it all with a forgiving nature that is impossible to believe. And the ending . . . I just couldn’t buy her final decision. Why she would care that much for the grandson who seems to have treated her like a short order cook and then abandoned her is never made clear. This novel is just some man’s fantasy of how a mother, or mother figure, should give up her whole existence to nurture others with no life of her own. Girls, go read something empowering and leave this on the shelf.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Wanda McCaddon, who did a nice job].
I was completely charmed by this novel of a young girl growing up "nerdy" in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The teenaged protagonist, much like myself, loves to read and loves science fiction books most of all. She describes her life in diary form in a brisk, no-nonsense style that is never treacly yet always very teenager-y. Every entry contains tidbits about her life along with short descriptions of her reactions to the latest science fiction book she has been reading. To hear her talk about discovering Roger Zelazny, Ursula LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, Poul Anderson and dozens of others was for me to relive my first discovery of them, too. It was magical. I sympathized when she described reading some of Anne McCaffrey's "Pern" novels out of order, because I did the same thing. When she waxes poetic about Lord of the Rings and equates her situation to the scouring of the Shire, I knew exactly what she meant. When she matter-of-factly tells her diary that getting her first period didn't stop her from seeing faeries "despite what C.S. Lewis thought about puberty" I laughed out loud.
I worried others from other generations (or even other genders) might not enjoy the book as much as I had, but in my science fiction book club, people who were a generation older than me loved it as did the generation younger than me, men and women alike. We did generally agree that we thought Embassytown was better in terms of the complexity of the ideas contained in the book, but we could understand why "Among Others" beat it out for the Hugo.
I would highly recommend readers do an internet search using "among others books mentioned" and you will find great lists -- no need to write them all down yourself. And you will have a list of scifi to read for years to come.
I recently toured Mark Twain's home in Connecticut. The tour guide was a font of knowledge about Twain so at the end of the tour, I asked him if I were to read one book by Twain, which he would recommend. He said everyone should read Huckleberry Finn as an adult, and that I should also try Innocents Abroad.
I vaguely recalled reading both Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer at some point in my childhood, but couldn't really remember anything about it, except what one generally knows: raft, Mississippi, generally uncharitable portrayal of African Americans. Now that I have re-read it, I can say that I remember not liking it very much as a child, and that my sentiments have not changed.
About the only thing I liked about the book were the descriptions of everyday life at the time. The people's homes were described in such detail, both the poor and the rich, that one gets a very good idea of what was important to people at the time. There are some wickedly funny descriptions of the people themselves, their attitudes skewered in wonderfully subtle ways that are incredibly modern. These raised the book to two stars for me.
But the general plot was so improbable and the main characters so unlikeable that I could barely finish the book. I guess the reader is supposed to think Huck and Tom were just up to boyish hyjinks but I couldn't get over how they were lying and stealing from their family and being so cruel to Jim for absolutely no reason.
He did a fantastic job with all the accents.
Everything with the King and Duke, and everything with Tom Sawyer. I could not stand the Duke and the King, who take up about one-third of the book. They are just con men, and not very good ones at that. I could understand Twain showing us one of their stupid cons, but to keep them in the story so we could witness something like five or six equally stupid tricks--not a single one of which fooled anyone-- was about the most boring thing I've ever read. And then the last quarter of the book is Tom Sawyer going on and on about every tedious detail of how he and Huck should free Jim when they could have done it in about 5 sentences was just excruciatingly awful.
This is the first T.C. Boyle book I have ever read and I can say it is one of the best contemporary novels I have read in a very long time. The characters were the biggest reason I liked it, probably because I could really identify with several of them, in particular, the white, suburban liberals in the story. Boyle did an amazing job of depicting the continual self-analysis and self-doubt of the typical liberal (me), who wants to come down on the side of the oppressed, but then has a running monolog inside his/her head arguing the other side as soon as the chips are down. Many passages describing the interior debates of the main character had me laughing out loud, recognizing the ludicrousness of much upper middle-class political correctness. In particular, the irony of the woman who was outraged at the treatment of a dog but then couldn’t care less what was happening to the human beings (Mexicans) in her neighborhood was a great reminder of how we often have our priorities completely f%^*-up. Little details like the fact that the white protagonists were lunching salade nicoise with a baguette from the local French bakery, while at the same time, the Mexican protagonists were practically starving in a ravine a short distance away, made me wince, they were so spot-on. The book also helped me better understand some of the reasons why people in states that have a lot of illegal immigrants are so militant about the issue of immigration. I live in Wisconsin, but even here we are not immune to some of the heavy-handed treatment of immigrants (see my review of “Rescuing Regina” for more on that).
I went against my normal rule and listened to this book on audio even though it was read by the author himself. To my surprise, he did a very good job and I would definitely purchase another audio of Boyle reading his own work.
Science fiction comes in many guises. Way Station is a less common variety, for the entire novel takes place on Earth, very few aliens are involved and there are no big space battles. However, what it lacks in those areas, it makes up for in ideas. The main character is the only human alive who knows that a panoply of inhabited planets exists, trading with each other and co-inhabiting the galaxy in (relative) peace. As the caretaker of a hidden portal that just happens to be located on Earth, he has lots of time between alien arrivals and departures to ruminate on the state of Planet Earth. Brought up on a farm, he is in tune with nature and takes walks every day during which he marvels again and again at the beauty and wonder of the living things around him. But he also has occasion to wonder at the violence of human beings, both as individuals and as nations. When mutual nuclear annihilation of humanity grows from a threat to a virtual certainty, our hero asks his alien overseers for advice and the option they offer is a chillingly final solution.
The parts of the book that describe the natural world are lyrically written, some of the most beautiful passages I have ever read describing our planet. The science fiction parts are not as detailed, for instance, there is practically no attempt to explain how the transportation device works…it might as well be magic, as far as the protagonist knows. And we see very little of the alien life that seems to be teeming all around our corner of the galaxy. The ending is a bit obvious, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a very good example of idea-based scifi.
As I read this novel, originally published in 1963, I couldn’t help thinking about the social and political realities that were whipping up the globe at the time—the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War are obviously weighing heavily on Simak’s mind. But the book also was an influencer. I couldn’t shake the idea that it must have influenced Gene Roddenberry as he was developing his ideas for Star Trek, primarily the Federation of Planets and transporters. There’s also a great description of something that any Trekkie would immediately identify as a holodeck, and which anticipates today’s first-person shooter video and online games. All of which makes this a good read, even 50 years after it first saw print. [I listened to this as an audio book narrated by Eric Michael Summerer]
There is so much packed into this short novel it is hard know where to begin a review. To keep it concise, here’s what I liked: This novel does what only scifi novels are able to do: ask the Big Questions. No, I don’t mean questions like “what is the meaning of love?” (although it asks that question, too) but even more profound questions like “what does it mean to be human?” and “why are we afraid of anything that is different?” Anyone who has seen and loved some of the best Star Trek episodes (Measure of a Man, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield) has seen later flowerings of the seeds planted by this 1968 novel. Which brings me to the things I didn’t like. A major element of the novel was a quasi-religion called “Mercerism” that involved people hooking themselves into machines to dial up whatever emotions they wanted to experience. Sounded a lot like a 1960’s fantasy of a culture with government-sanctioned drug trips. That part of the book’s plot felt dated and extraneous, and not because I know this thread is missing from the movie based on the book. If I have ever seen Blade Runner, I do not remember it at all. So for me, this book stands on its own. I salute it for being a visionary piece of science fiction and for its place as a touchstone for so much of modern scifi. And I really loved that the eponymous question is never outright asked in the book. What do I think is the answer? A definite “yes.”
Scott Brick is one of my favorite narrators. I think his reading style goes well with science fiction. He can make things sound just – a – little – bit – off, which is just what was called for in this case.
As someone born in the 1960’s who has not read extensively about American presidents nor American involvement in WWII, I found this book very interesting and informative. There was just enough detail for me in this abridged version of the book, which touched on both Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt’s personal and public lives, primarily during WWII. Someone with a more burning interest in these topics would probably want to read the unabridged version, but for anyone with merely a passing interest, this abridged version is just the right length. Mr. Herrmann’s performance of the book was excellent, and a foreword and afterword are read quite effectively by the author. Having just enjoyed “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” the 2012 movie about Roosevelt starring Bill Murray (an excellent film), this book definitely expanded my understanding of both the man and his times. As I listened, my mind was full of vivid pictures from the film of the president driving his car, looking at his stamp collection, enjoying his daily cocktail hour, and posing for press photos *after* being helped out of his wheelchair so the American public wouldn’t realize the extent of his disability. The book devotes nearly as much time to Eleanor as to her husband (unlike the film) and left me with a much increased understanding of her importance, in both the life of her husband and of our nation.
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