This is a long, long book, and the first in a series, though I understand that they mostly stand alone so you don't really have to read them in order. It centers around three women: one married, one single, and one widowed, and for each of them, the central question is the same - do I go with Mr. Dull and Dependable or do I go with Mr. Good Looks Who Will Spend All My Money and Ruin Me?
It might have been a more exciting book if Trollope was a more radical author, but I'm not spoiling too much to say that Trollope was actually a very conservative author. Everyone ultimately Does the Right Thing in a very Victorian way, but not before flirting with impropriety enough to raise the question asked by the title: Can You Forgive Her?
Besides jilted suitors and gentleman wastrels, there is a bit of Parliamentary politics in this book which I believe assumes greater importance in the future volumes.
Anthony Trollope had the gift of narrative and character development, so if your only exposure to Victorian social drama is Charles Dickens, then give Trollope a try. That said, I would probably start with The Way We Live Now, which I thought was a better book with a more engaging story.
Simon Vance is one of my favorite audiobook readers, and he delivers great Victorian performances equally well with his readings of James Bond novels.
So, this guy Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning as a cockroach. (Actually, the Wikipedia article has an interesting discussion about how Kafka never specified exactly what kind of bug Gregor turned into). His family freaks out a little, as you might expect, but then they sort of come to accept the situation. Gregor feels increasingly isolated as he cannot really communicate with them and he can no longer support them as he once did. Coexisting in a tiny apartment with a giant cockroachinsect becomes increasingly burdensome for the family. Eventually Gregor dies (implied, that he wills himself to death to spare his family further burden) and they're all relieved. The end.
Sort of a downer. I think it loses a lot in the translation, as apparently Kafka's prose in the original German was much of the reason for The Metamorphosis's high literary status.
This is a surrealistic piece which, technically, you could probably call "magical realism." (No explanation is ever given for Gregor's transformation into a giant bug, and no one seems curious about how such a thing could happen. They're just all rather distressed by the whole thing without ever really talking about it.
Frankly, as a story it was a bit flat and anti-climactic, and if there is some deeper meaning, I'm afraid I missed it. Would probably enjoy it more if I read it in the original German.
Alastair Reynolds has impressed me with his intellectual sorta-hard-SF space operas, but left me a bit cold in terms of characters and storytelling, the grand scope of his plots dwarfing the human elements. He's a bit like a colder Charles Stross who is not trying quite as hard as Stross does to impress you with his cleverness, even though he's very clever.
Terminal World is a departure from his usual space operas - it's set on one world, that vaguely resembles Earth but isn't, in a post-apocalytic far future. The setting is kind of steampunkish, but steampunk done in a hard-SF way, and more post-human than the usual pseudo-Victorian frippery.
Quillon is a doctor living in a city called Spearpoint. Spearpoint is, as its name implies, a towering sliver of civilization stretched up into the atmosphere, surrounded by a wasted, cold and drying planet. Spearpoint is divided into "zones" that determine what technology works there. At the highest levels are the Angels, who still enjoy advanced technology, while at lower levels are places like Neon Heights, Steamville, and Horse Town. Some places, electronics stop working. Other places do not even allow internal combustion. And there are some zones where even humans can't survive.
At first, the characters seem mostly uninterested in how this state of affairs came to be, because apparently it's been like this for thousands of years, and is now the accepted status quo. Indeed, we learn that despite the obvious remnants of what was once a great, highly technological civilization, most people have little awareness of history or a world beyond their own.
It turns out Quillon is an Angel, or a former Angel. Angels can't normally survive in the low-tech lower levels, but he was part of a special infiltration project that went wrong and left him isolated among hostile humans (or "post-humans" as the Angels call them). When the Angels come after him, he goes on the run. His flight eventually takes him out of Spearpoint altogether, and across the wastelands which are occupied by Reaver-like "Skull-boys" and a rival civilization known as SWARM that exists entirely in the air, aboard a great fleet of zeppelins.
So, Reynolds manages to give us sky pirates and zeppelin battles, and a world-saving adventure that does not really uncover the secret behind Spearpoint and its world, but gives us a few glimpses. At times this felt like one of his epic space operas, albeit confined to a single planet, and at other times, it was more like a steampunk adventure. (Zeppelin battles!)
I liked Terminal World - it feels complete, even with a somewhat vague ending. Clearly Reynolds could write more books set in this world, but it doesn't seem like he plans to.
Alastair Reynolds is probably one of the smartest and best writers of hard SF and space opera today, the kind of SF that actually uses physics and big ideas. Unfortunately, his writing still lacks an essential something to make him one of my favorites - it's as if there is always a certain lofty distance between author and creation that one can sense in his work. His characters are intelligent and interesting, but they are largely plot puppets. Still, this was going to be "three strikes and you're out" but it was more of a base hit, so I'll keep reading him.
Claire DeWitt is the protege of Constance Darling, the "greatest detective in the world." Using tea leaves, I Ching, home-brewed philosophy, and a book by a French detective named Jacques Silette, studying under Darling was like apprenticing as a wizard. Then Constance Darling died, leaving Claire as her heir to the title of greatest detective in the world.
It's hard to say how tongue-in-cheek Claire is being when she calls herself that, but she states it in a flat, no-nonsense manner that makes people believe it because she seems to. And she really is, as it turns out, freakishly good at what she does, though I Ching and tea leaves notwithstanding, whatever supernatural help she receives is as likely to be the result of the drugs she does not hesitate to sample as the spirit of her departed mentor.
Claire is hired to find out what happened to a New Orleans lawyer who has disappeared, by his nephew. One of Claire's first observations is that clients rarely actually want you to solve their mystery for them, and this proves to be true. Claire's case takes her through the still flood-devastated streets of New Orleans, uncovering trouble and secrets people would rather she not uncover, and when she solves the case, no one is happy. Pretty much as she expected.
Claire's voice is dry, wise, and occasionally sarcastic. She operates on intuition, mysticism, and drugs. She's tough but not a superwoman, and she seems to have connections everywhere. The other characters are equally vivid and flawed and contain multitudes, even the missing lawyer who is never seen on-page.
This was a quick read that is just your basic mystery with a quirky lady detective on the surface, but contains hidden depths. I'll definitely be reading more in the series.
This book is cheesy big guns blazing entertainment, and I loved it. I am giving it five stars not because it is the best of the best, but because it was fun and action packed and it's an example of an author doing nothing more and nothing less than entertaining his audience without pretense.
Warbound is the third book in the Grimnoir trilogy, so you want to read the first two. It is set in an alt-history in which a magical being came to Earth in the 1850s, and its presence bestowed magical powers on 1% of the population. Most people get a single power, so there are "Brutes" (super-strength), "Heavies" (gravity controllers), "Cogs" (gadgeteer geniuses), "Readers" (telepaths), "Fades" (turn insubstantial), "Torches" (pyrokinesis) and so on.
Basically, despite the "fantasy" element, these are period superhero novels. And the author devotes many words to describing the battles in full-page multi-panel glory. It's hard to do superheroes (an inherently visual genre) justice in written form, but Correia does a pretty good job. At times he reminded me of his fellow Mormon author Brandon Sanderson, who's also known for his intricate "magic systems" and long descriptions of characters figuring out how to use their powers in creative new ways, but Correia's plots are less contemplative (which is not to say simpler) and more about the action.
That said, major suspensions of disbelief are required, but no more than with most epic or urban fantasy.
In the conclusion of the trilogy, war with the Japanese Imperium is imminent, but only the knights of the Grimnoir know that Chairman Tokugawa has been replaced by an impostor. His "son," Iron Guard Toru Tokugawa, knows of the deception and the corruption of the Imperium's magical training schools, Iron Guard, and Shadow Guard, and so has reluctantly joined the Grimnoir.
Since this is a rising Japan in the 1930s, guilty of pretty much the same atrocities Japan was committing in Asia at that time in the real world, this causes a lot of tension with the Grimnoir, who have been sworn enemies of the Imperium. Toru manifests all the usual tropes about fictional samurai: hard-headed, death before dishonor, all non-Japanese are weak and lazy, grudging respect for Westerners who are brave warriors even if they are ignorant barbarians, blah blah blah.
A summary of the plot would be kind of pointless: if the premise does not interest you, it's not gonna interest you, but Correia does do a very good job of working within the parameters he has established and then treating it seriously. Powers work a certain way and everything follows from certain first principles, and when some of the big twists are revealed, more pieces fall into place, including some that have been developed since the first book.
Is this is gonzo gun porn and superhero slugfests? Yes! And awfully darn fun. But awfully damn intelligent for a historical superhero novel as well. And there is a conclusion to bring this trilogy to a definitive close, while still leaving open the possibility (I would guess, based on Correia's prolificness, inevitability) of a new series coming down the pike.
This is not the best written or deepest or most original series. It's just fun and entertaining. Did I mention fun? Okay, so I am a superhero nerd. But in all seriousness, for what it is, the plotting, pacing, characterization, and worldbuilding were all far above the somewhat low bar I have for this kind of book. Hence, 5 stars. Would read more Grimnoir, definitely.
And an additional 5 star rating must be given for Bronson Pinchot. I HATED Balki and "Perfect Strangers"! But he is one of the best audiobook narrators ever! Seriously, he nails every single accent, does men and women both flawlessly, and probably puts more life into Correia's characters than exists on the page.
John Douglas is a former FBI profiler - he's written several previous bestsellers, and reminds us frequently in this book about his pioneering work as a profiler and all the other books he's written. I suspect his earlier books are better, as this one, while interesting, seemed like it was very much written to fill a publication slot. Douglas's own connection with the BTK case is tenuous - he provided some advice to police detectives during the initial investigation of the BTK serial killer when he first began, in the 70s, but had no further connection with the case until many years later, after the killer was caught and identified and imprisoned for life. At this point, Douglas, now long-since retired from the FBI, is filled with a desire to interview Rader.
The interview itself is only the last chapter of the book, achieved after a lot of hoop-jumping and negotiations with an unfortunate would-be author who had already secured exclusive rights to Rader's story. Douglas's meeting with Rader behind bars at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas was anticlimactic. Rader presents exactly as we'd expect: a psychopath who is matter-of-fact about his crimes, as there is no point in denying them now, yet still trying to game his image and what people think of him. He's able to tell Douglas little that we don't already know about him, and few additional insights are gained about the inside of this sick pervert's mind.
Still, the journey along the way was both fascinating and disgusting. Dennis Rader was no criminal mastermind, no charming Manson-style leader or scary monster who makes you look away from his chilling gaze. He was a not-particularly-bright man obsessed with bondage and killing, who wormed his way into positions of small, petty authority where he could terrorize people in small ways while terrorizing Wichita, Kansas in a very real way at night for decades. The only particularly unusual thing about him, as Douglas notes, is that he stopped killing for a while, long enough for the police to think he'd either retired or died, and then started again. It was when he restarted that he got caught, as he began making use of new Internet and word processing technology. This proved to be his undoing. He was quickly tracked down, arrested, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Is there anything to learn from Dennis Rader's story? Douglas talks a little about what might have made Rader the way he is. He rejects the "broken from birth theory," though the evidence seems pretty strong that Rader, like all serial killers, was a sociopath at an early age. Douglas probably prefers to believe that Rader had a choice and therefore is fully responsible for his crimes. That seems mostly a philosophical point; we may be curious how someone becomes a serial killer, but with little ability to identify and prevent them, we do as a practical matter hold them responsible for their actions when they are caught, as we must. Douglas repeatedly refers to Rader and other killers like him as "monsters" who deserve to die, which they surely are, but it makes him sound less clinical and more personally invested. Understandable for a former fed, but given that he has little insight to offer on that score, sometimes it just felt like an obligatory reminder that John Douglas is a good guy fighting bad guys, even though he's long since hung up his badge.
This is not a book for people who have a high degree of empathy for victims, even strangers, as the crimes of the BTK killer are described in detail, though here Douglas does remain clinical rather than gratuitous, aside from a few sympathetic (but wrenching) speculations about what the poor victim must have felt, realizing only after they are tied up what they are really facing.
What stood out to me was how banal and ordinary Dennis Rader was — a dweeb who could've been taken down by anyone who had the foresight to fight him, yet a combination of luck and cunning allowed him to kill and kill again, even after several botched adventures. John Douglas tries to link himself to Rader's eventual capture by describing how the techniques he innovated decades ago were used, but he really had nothing to do with Rader's actual capture and there's not much evidence that any of the advice he ever gave to the police helped them catch Rader sooner.
Marko Kloos is another one of those self-published SF authors who found an unexpected following, hence my discovering this book as an Audible deal of the day. It was, while not epic or on the level of one of the better works of Heinlein or Pournelle or another big-name military SF author, a nice treat.
Terms of Enlistment shows its very obvious Heinlein influences right away - Andrew Grayson is not exactly Johnny Rico, being a slum-dweller who joins the military for three squares and a shot at an enlistment payout if he survives his five-year hitch. But the training and the ground-pounder action is quite reminiscent of Starship Troopers. That said, it's Starship Troopers without much military or political philosophy, and in fact the "North American Commonwealth" that the troopers serve is a rather skeletal setting. The military is divided into Army, Marines, and Navy, and while Grayson wants to go to space, it's the Territorial Army he winds up in, rescuing embassy employees from civil unrest and quashing riots in tenements like those Grayson grew up in.
This futuristic military is completely coed, so Grayson falls in love with a Navy-bound enlistee who becomes a pilot, and through a rather contrived set of circumstance, he is able to get a service transfer and then get assigned to her vessel.
Until this point, the book had been a rather flat sequence of events, full of action but very little plot beyond the main character's ambitions. Then we get to leave Earth, and if the ending is even more contrived and improbable, it does throw a major twist into the story and set it up for a sequel.
Overall, an unexpected gem which I recommend to all space opera fans, especially if you like military SF. Kloos actually seems to know something about the military and writes convincingly about training, different branches, ranks, and equipment, something a lot of SF authors don't do so well at convincingly portraying.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was famous as a 19th century feminist author, and apparently she's taught in a lot of feminist/women's studies courses. I was vaguely interested in her most famous story, The Yellow Wallpaper, so when this collection was an Audible deal of the day, I went ahead and downloaded.
I'm glad I did. I'll get to the title story in a minute, but I found the other short stories - which were all about a woman being presented with a choice (usually in the form of a man). Clearly there is a feminist undertone to each story, though bear in the mind this is 19th century "First Wave" feminism, so it remains largely a given that even a spirited, talented, independent-minded woman is still going to marry eventually. But Gilman was first and foremost writing short stories meant to have a beginning, middle, and end, and does not beat her readers over the head with any "message." In that respect, these stories were quite enjoyable, some of them having an O. Henry twist. I particularly , in which a moralistic, wealthy old spinster aunt promises her two nephews $50 (a small fortune, especially to children) if they forego butter for an entire year, believing butter is bad for children and too "rich." They do, and when the year is up, the old hag gives them their $50 in the form of membership pledges in a missionary society. The reader seethes with anger along with the boys at the injustice of it, but Gilman delivers a satisfying coda to the story.
Some of the stories are really just simple romances, though with a slightly feminist spin, but all of them showed that Gilman was a master of characterization and not bad as a prose stylist either.
Now, The Yellow Wallpaper is famous because it represents an early feminist look at the treatment of women and mental health. The main character is a wife suffering in the aftermath of some sort of nervous breakdown and made to stay in an upstairs room decorated with a hideous yellow wallpaper that she abhors. She wants to leave, she wants to do something, she craves mental stimulation, but her kind but egostistical and patronizing physician husband refuses to let her go anywhere or lift a finger. And so he accomplishes exactly the opposite of his intent as she slowly goes mad.
This has obvious significance as an indictment of how women with mental health issues were treated, how their concerns were not taken seriously, and how they could be reduced to powerless chattel even by the kindest and most well-meaning husband. However, as a horror fan, I submit that this story can be read completely differently...
... as a tale of Lovecraftian horror! A trapped woman slowly discovers the secret of the things that live in the in-between spaces accessible from our reality through unearthly patterns in a hideous yellow wallpaper. In the climax, her husband discovers her after she has gone insane from exposure to secrets man was not meant to know.
Seriously, read it that way and it totally works.
Anyway, I really liked these stories, even the ones that were very short and had not much in the way of conclusion.
Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray tends to be classified as "horror" because the underlying premise is indeed one of supernatural horror: a dissolute young man is blessed/cursed with eternal youth, thanks to a portrait painted by an artist friend of his which reflects all the sins and depravities of his debauched life. As Dorian Gray stays young and beautiful, his portrait becomes more and more ghastly, until the karmic climax.
Nonetheless, if you actually read the novel, the "horror" aspects, particularly the supernatural parts, are understated. Dorian Gray, who begins as a rather callow but not evil youth, falls under the cynical influence of Lord Henry Wotton, a professional member of the do-nothing aristocratic class. When the painter Basil Hallward captures Dorian's Adonis-like perfection on canvas, Dorian is overcome with the tragedy of his own face growing old and wrinkled while the painting will always capture him as he was, young and perfect. He wishes it could be the reverse, and gets his wish.
Unlike in the movie versions, there is no magical Egyptian cat-god or explicit deal with the Devil that makes this happen — for Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray's selling of his soul was entirely metaphorical. He was apparently satirizing the Aesthetic Movement (though he was himself one of its more prominent representatives) which can best be summarized as "Art for Art's Sake." It was associated with decadence and disregard for social and moral judgments; Dorian Gray was a literal manifestation of the Aesthetic ideal: he sold his soul for Art (or rather, a piece of art).
Dorian becomes increasingly heartless after his cruel treatment of Sylvia Vane, whom he loved for her art but then jilted when she let him down artistically. After a brief attempt at redemption, he becomes one of the most notorious men in London, though notably, the precise nature of his many evil deeds is never described, leaving it all up to the reader's lascivious imagination. He ruins lives and destroys everyone close to him, yet still manages to keep a few close friends like Lord Henry and Basil.
(I definitely picked up some homoerotic vibes between Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil, which is interesting since apparently Wilde had to cut out some of the more overt homoeroticism when it went from serialization in a magazine to publication as a novel.)
So, read as a horror novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray is kind of lightweight — it's definitely not "scary" — and as a satire/criticism of the Aesthetic Movement, it is not terribly subtle. However, Oscar Wilde was most famous for his bon mots, and reading Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil exchange wry witticisms is the real pleasure of the novel, even if none of them talk like actual people having real conversations. This book could be mined for quotable lines on every page, and as a story of a man falling headfirst into Faustian temptation, it definitely has its literary moments. It is not perfect (it's awfully convenient how often Dorian escapes judgment by someone else's timely death, and the prose is a bit turgidly Victorian), but it's a solid 4 star book. Definitely worth reading for the one-liners and for absorbing a very readable literary classic.
As a regular reader of James Wesley Rawles's Survival Blog, I was interested to hear what a novel written by him would sound like. Knowing he's a conservative Christian libertarian, I expected a big dose of hatin' on Obama and probably a bunch of atheist liberals getting what's coming to them, but in fairness, the author mostly keeps the right wing vitriol in check until the latter part of the book. But when it does emerge, boy does it ever.
The first thing to know is that Rawles clearly hopes this book will "wake up" some of his readers, both to the threat he believes is facing the country and to the need to prepare for the coming collapse. Whether or not you believe that hyperinflation will cause a a total collapse of the U.S. government, I have always felt that there is some wisdom in preparing for worst case scenarios, for some value of "worst case." In other words, the preppers are not completely wrong. We can't all move to an armed compound in Idaho, as the characters in this book do, or even build bunkers in our back yards, but we can keep a month or two supply of dried rations, water, toilet paper, and first aid kits in storage. People with pets and kids and medications to juggle have to think more seriously about what they'd do if the power goes down for more than a day or two. And some of us might even include things that go bang in our preps...
So, when you read this book, be prepared for lots and lots of lists, of firearms, ammunition, accessories, vehicles, survival gear, rations, batteries, fuel types, backpacks, you name it. There are chapters stuffed with "how tos" on everything from blood transfusion to farming. You couldn't actually use this novel as a guide in a real-life grid down situation, but reading it will make you think a lot about what sorts of things you'd need to know. A lot of reviews complain about the listology and the didacticism of the book, and that's a fair complaint - if you just want a good old fashioned post-apocalypse novel, Patriots is awfully dry at times. But since I do actually have an interest in the subject, I didn't get too bogged down with the "stuff you oughta know" parts.
That said, Rawles is certainly not going to dazzle you with his prose or his characterization either. There are over twenty characters in this book, all of them friends who have supposedly been saving and stocking up for the apocalypse since their college days, and so we get chapters about each of them at one point or another. None of them are really distinguishable from one another beyond a few simply-described traits: there's the chubby Asian gun nut, the ex-Army Officer alpha male, the motherly nurse, the ROTC cadet prepper, the biker machinist (an awful lot of highly skilled individuals with all the right political and religious views just happen to wander down the road to the characters' compound), the token Jew and the token agnostic about whom I can literally remember nothing else, etc.
The "plot" of the first part of the book is basically everyone getting together on their compound and weathering it out for a few years, as America goes to hell and they have to deal with looters (who are Marxists and cannibals and implied to be gay) and other prepper militias.
Then comes the second part of the book. This is when the United Nations installs a provisional relief government, and the book shoots straight into gibbering right-wing lunacy. The UN troops are all mustache-twirling war criminals who think nothing of rape and torture, the American quislings promptly agree to suspending every single American civil right (literally the first thing a newly-arrived UN-backed American official does is give a speech to a skeptical community of survivalists that carrying a gun will henceforth be a capital crime), and soon we are seeing, I kid you not, FEMA concentration camps.
The militia organized by the main characters joins up with a resistance movement, and in a few months they are able to kick heavily-armed UN troops with tank divisions out of the country because Americans are just that awesome. Then they rewrite the Constitution and institute a new U.S. government that would make the Tea Party collectively die of spontaneous orgasmic expulsion of their precious bodily fluids.
I still give this book 3 stars because it was, after a fashion, both entertaining and informative, but it was like the author was trying to keep his rabid Euro-phobia and Red-baiting impulses in check for the first few hundred pages and then he couldn't hold it in anymore.
If you have a serious interest in prepping combined with a love of post-apocalyptic novels, this book is worth reading, but if your interest is only in fiction, there are much, much better books, and if you're mainly interested in the survivalist aspects, try Rawles's non-fiction or his blog instead.
I was expecting to dislike this book, because I'd heard that the narrator goes off on a rant about atheists and agnostics, and I have a bit of an aversion to be lectured about how empty and meaningless my life is without being filled with the author's favorite flavor of deity. However, as it turns out, the ruminations on religion (and atheism and agnosticism) were not nearly as soapboxy as I feared, and they come from the protagonist, who is a 16-year-old boy.
Actually, Pi Patel's attitude towards religion is neatly summed up in his anecdote about his spiritual awakening in his hometown of Pondicherry, India. Inspired to "love God," he begins attending church, mosque, and temple, becoming a devout Christian, Muslim, and Hindu - all at once. Much to the distress of his priest, imam, and sadhu when his triple-dipping religious observances are discovered. This is evidently supposed to reveal something deep and universal about Pi's spirituality, but to me it revealed that he's a kid with an understandable yearning and curiosity about the divine, and no intellectual foundation or empirical experience with which to genuinely seek truth.
But that's all in the first few chapters. Most of the book is about his months-long survival on a lifeboat in the Pacific with a grown Bengal tiger as his sole fellow survivor.
How does a sixteen-year-old Indian boy survive months on a lifeboat with 450 pounds of hungry Bengal tiger and not get eaten? The tale is a fantastic one, and it's very well told, sprinkled with a great deal of information about zoology and animal behavior. I can't personally attest that Yann Martel did his research, though I haven't read any reviews by zoologists saying he doesn't know what he's talking about. But I found myself believing.
Which is ironic, because in the climax, the investigators to whom Pi tells his tale, after he finally makes landfall in Mexico, do not believe him. So Pi tells them a different tale. The reader is meant to decide for himself, I suppose, which is the real one.
I probably shouldn't compare this book to a Salman Rushdie novel, because while the main character is Indian, the author is not, so it should be a coincidence that Life of Pi reminded me a lot of Midnight's Children - the style, not the story. I haven't read enough of either Rushdie or Martel to know whether they really do have a similar style. But the fact is, those two Man-Booker Prize winners both narrated by young Indian protagonists do strike me as similar. Martel also writes about sometimes horrific events with a wry humor sprinkled throughout.
So yes, this was a good book and I enjoyed it a great deal. But I'm still knocking off a star for the agnostic-bashing.
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