Petaluma, CA, United States | Member Since 2006
This series just gets better and better. Things that were annoying in the earlier books (like the overuse of certain vocabulary terms) have been fixed or at least mitigated in this latest installment. We will forgive him for falling prey to a new batch of overused terms towards the end.
Unlike book 3, book 4 starts off in a way that seems to deliberately ignore where the previous book left off. Rather than remind his readers of recent critical events, Martin simply goes on with selected storylines, trusting that eventually there will be enough clues to fill in the gaps. His opening scene doesn't appear to fit in anywhere and we will wait an agonizingly long time to find out what it relates to. Likewise, we are forced to wait an agonizingly long time to pick up the story lines for the most intriguing loose ends of book 3.
The result is a book that is always entertaining yet vaguely unsatisfying. While we get to watch the aftermath of the recent war play out, and while there is clearly a lot of background preparation for what must ultimately happen, there isn't a feeling of making much progress toward a final conclusion. I am not wishing for Mr. Martin to telegraph the ending, but book 5 had better do more than simply mark time.
I have recently been subjected to other imaginary worlds of inferior quality and it has me pondering why this particular world holds my interest. Martin has taken the time to construct a back story with unstable forces in play. And then he has taken the trouble to create a host of very individualized characters each with his or her own agenda. But the real magic comes when Martin lets those characters collide with each other and with the sociopolitical forces of their time. At that he is a real master. And all the specific trappings of the imaginary universe assume their proper role as background matter.
I guess I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. I can't help feeling I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it when I was younger.
There are some genuinely interesting ideas here. The key one being how to construct a vastly larger world than Earth on which we could still function. The parts where Niven explores how this world would differ from our own show some serious thought. We can ignore the technical difficulties such as how to keep it in a stable orbit.
The characters were marginally interesting, although in fairness I do have to note that recent sci-fi shows all seem to have similar conglomerations of personalities so maybe Niven deserves credit for being so influential. All the same I couldn't get especially invested in any of their supposed agendas. Why is it that alien races all have to be so simplistically monolithic in their interests, personalities, and outlooks?
There seems to be a recurring interest in granting human beings increased longevity while maintaining the physical bodies of the young. I suppose this is very appealing to the core audience for this kind of book. What is baffling is that these very old humans seem to have no acquired wisdom, judgment, skill set, or cultural depth that would correspond to this increase in lifespan.
Where the book really let me down was in the absence of any kind of compelling story. I kept waiting for a plot to develop, but it was just a basic adventure story pasted onto a very thin excuse to motivate the action. Niven fans will no doubt take me to task for overlooking the very compelling reasons these alien races had for undertaking this mission, but as I said the imaginary forces working on imaginary races using imaginary technology just doesn't excite me.
Still, this is an acknowledged sci-fi classic and spawned a series of other books exploring the premise, so it must be appealing to someone out there.
There are a number of harsh reviews here regarding Heinlein's depiction of women. I wish I could give a hearty rebuttal, but this is not a book I got deeply attached to. On the other hand, I think the critics are forgetting that the attitudes shown accurately depict a significant segment of liberated women in the 1960s, and that we really haven't moved that far beyond that as you can tell from just a glance at TMZ. Moreover, I don’t think Heinlein was writing for posterity. As far as extrapolating from the time of writing, I think the book was fairly prescient in describing what the 1970s would be like.
On a side note, his fake news stories of the future are dead on accurate in describing the current events of our own time. I don't know if that is hilarious or just intensely sad.
At this distance, it's hard not to wish that Heinlein had been interested in exploring different questions. However, the issues he focused on (gender relations, overpopulation, class privilege, environmental pollution) were the issues of that time. And as far as the depiction of human relationships is concerned, he does an excellent job of capturing the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of his time. It's never clear whether the author perceives them as such. Too bad. Would that we all could perceive the hypocrisies of our own time as clearly.
There is a hint near the beginning of the book that the whole story could merely be a fantasy constructed by a brain cut off from contact with the outside world. But this isn't supported by any further exposition within the text itself. Still, it's interesting to note that every book is essentially a fantasy constructed within the mind of the author.
I can't help wondering how the book would have come across if read by a female narrator. So much of the book takes place within the mind of a woman, and the dated expressions seem especially incongruous being spoken by a man.
The central theme that Heinlein seems to have been interested in was how to get a totally frank conversation between genders without any of the masks or defenses that customarily get in the way. To that end, he created a rather unique scenario. Sadly, I think his solution was of more interest to him and his readers at the time than it will be to readers of our own time.
The first segment is very rich in depth of scholarship. It is a reminder of just how superficial the education system is in terms of touching on the vast range of intellectual thought in human history. If the entire series was like this, it would be daunting. Fortunately, the other 11 segments slow down and focus on smaller topics of interest. That isn't to say they are less intense. These are all carefully crafted essays. You may not agree with everything they have to say, but they make a compelling case in every instance.
The common theme through all the units is exploring the philosophical, political, economic, moral and ethical underpinnings behind the idea of liberty. Not so long ago, I wouldn't have thought such a course was necessary. I thought everyone appreciated liberty as the number one priority of society. But liberty is under assault by a number of other interests. People who, with the best of intentions, think that society would be better off if we could control people better. People who think other people can't be entrusted to make important decisions about their own lives. People who think they can reduce the amount of unfairness in the world by curtailing some liberties. People who think there are higher priorities than liberty. And people who are just outright opposed to the idea of liberty.
Learning about Liberty may not convince everyone that liberty should be the number one priority of society, but I hope it will at least convince anyone who listens to it that there is a good case for that.
I was sorry when it ended. I am hoping Cato will add more things like this to their library.
Just one comment about production values. The overall narration is very good, although there were times when it felt like one of those high school documentary films. The producers made the decision to have actors read the direct quotes from the authors cited. This adds some variety to the material, but sometimes it seems like the actors went a little over the top. For a couple of people, like Ludwig von Mises, the text was nearly lost in the thick accent. Overall though, I think this was a good choice.
I had to take a detour into Japanese YA fiction because of the terrific trailer for Edge of Tomorrow, which appears to be (loosely) based on this book. The book is a well-paced, tightly plotted genre novella. It has two things going for it that make it stand out: an incredibly great premise, and one carefully prepared exchange between the two main characters about 3/4 of the way through.
Apart from that, there isn't much in the way of character development, or even the exploration of the possibilities inherent in this rather original alien invasion story. Anime and manga fans will be in familiar territory with how things play out. Sakurazaka is focused on his protagonist only, and he provides as little context as he can get away with. That said, he does cheat a little. When the first person narrative gets in his way, he switches to third person, giving the reader information that our hero can't know, and even some stuff that the human race is not allowed to know. He even takes the cute tactic of having his hero comment on how time travel stories generally don't quite make sense, unlike this one which is "real life". Having disarmed the reader this way, he blithely goes on to spew out his own set of inconsistent time travel conundrums. Once again, anime and manga fans will be unfazed.
As for the coffee… Well, there is a sense in which the book strongly suggests that coffee is the most important thing on the planet. Or then again, it might just be a metaphor. I'm still a little confused by the title. Is that a literal translation of the Japanese? Or am I missing the grammatical intention? All the same, a very enjoyable quick read. Don't let the 3 star rating deceive you.
I pestered Audible so long about this book, having heard nothing but glowing things about it for so many years (and no time to read the paper version). So I rushed to put it in my queue as soon as it came out. Garcia Marquez has said that you have to be very careful not to fall into his trap. I wish I knew what he thought his trap was. Is it about love in old age? Is it about immorality disguised as faithfulness? Is it about the unreliability of the characters' appraisal of people and events? Is it about something else entirely? I will probably never know.
First of all, the prose is beautiful. Even in translation, you get the sense of an author with a gift for finding the right word and the felicitous phrase. The book is simply littered with insightful observations about life and humanity. Second, the characters are solidly created. We are interested in them, even as we sense that they may not be people we personally would like to know. And therein lies my uneasiness with this book. The more we get to know these characters, the more ordinary they seem, and--especially with Florentino--the more troubling their moral outlook on life becomes. Garcia Marquez leads us step by step down the proverbial primrose path, and I can follow as long as I suspend disbelief. I have more of a problem with it in the cold light of day.
I wish I could say I liked any of these characters. It would make it so much easier to give a heartfelt endorsement to this book. It is without question a great book. Tolstoy has learned a lot in the 8 years since he wrote War and Peace. Instead of shifting back and forth between the story and historical analysis, he has figured out how to integrate everything into the story. Not only does the historical exposition fit naturally into the dialog between the characters, but his observations of the characters and their feelings is spot on perfect. And by cluing us in to their feelings, we understand why they react in a particular way to the next person they encounter, and how those internal processes contribute to hampering and undermining the oral communication we all depend upon.
This was a hard book to listen to because I kept wanting to stop and consider all the ideas Tolstoy introduced. I suppose the key question for the reader is to decide what you think this book is about. I don't think it's about Anna Karenina anymore than War and Peace is about war and peace. I think Tolstoy's central concern is about how to live one's life, and how to satisfy one's soul. From that perspective, Anna serves as an example of how seemingly justifiable choices lead inexorably to disaster. Levin is more truly the protagonist of the book. Everyone else is illustrating to one degree or another the thesis Tolstoy is exploring.
I picked this version of the book because I like Wanda McCaddon as a narrator. I suppose I should have given more thought to which translation I wanted to hear. This one (as best I can determine) is the one by Louise and Aylmer Maude. Both Maude's and Bennett's translations have served generations of Tolstoy readers, but I guess those of us who haven't learned Russian will have to wait awhile to hear a more updated translation.
One thing that really surprised me is that Karenin, for all his faults, is hardly the monster he is generally regarded to be. In fact, it is impossible to point to a true villain in this book. Nearly every character in inwardly pursuing what he or she believes to be a good end, even if they are misguided in one way or another.
I was a little nervous starting book 3. It had been a while since I finished book 2, and there is the further confusion of where the TV series left off, so it's hard to keep track of what has happened. However, Martin has the confidence of a storyteller who knows he has a good story to tell. He manages to entwine the recap of the last book with the plot threads of the new book in a way that feels totally natural. In fact, he takes such a long time getting his multiple story lines back in motion that I had forgotten I had ever taken a break in between books by the time all the characters were back in place.
I think Martin has improved as a writer. The first two books suffered from having too much exposition inserted under the pretence of interior monologue. Here in the third book the exposition is much better integrated and used to drive the story, not just as background filler. He often sets up certain vocabulary to foreshadow or bleed across in the transition to the next segment of one of his multiple storylines. And somehow he pulls off the amazing trick of making the ending incredibly satisfying and simultaneously leaving you craving the next book.
And now the list of words I would be happy never to hear again: garron, boiled leather, small clothes, milk of the poppy, dream wine, flagon.
Salman Rushdie sure isn't afraid to take on large themes in his books. The Satanic Verses dealt with the whole Anglo-Indian immigrant experience. Midnight's Children is a broadly sprawling picaresque account of the first 30 years of India's post-Empire independence. There is plenty of humor except when Rushdie pauses to be serious or poignant or sometimes even tragic. There is also a good deal of history thrown in for context, of which I daresay the average American is largely ignorant. It must have seemed, in 1977, as though India's brief flirtation with democracy was dangerously close to collapse.
The problem with writing a book that way is that it's hard to feel especially close to any of his characters. There is a kind of distance between them and the reader held apart by the witty repartee of the author. I suppose that's why it feels especially touching when that distance is relaxed and characters are allowed to be vulnerable emotionally. Which isn't to say that his characters are not interesting or vivid in their own way. The upside of writing the book that way is that it keeps it entertaining even through the parts that, upon reflection, had to have been emotionally traumatic.
I waited in vain for the sentence that cost Rushdie a defamation suit from Indira Gandhi, but that sentence has been removed. Rushdie's introduction to this anniversary edition talks about the suit, and the fascinating story of how the book came to be written and the very entertaining rejection notices this Booker Prize-winning book received. It is a shame Rushdie's career has been overshadowed by the controversy over Satanic Verses. I do not think he gets enough credit for being the wonderfully funny, witty, and entertaining author that he is.
Lyndam Gregory does a fantastic job of catching the various Indian accents and keeping all the characters differentiated.
Frank Muller was a great audiobook reader. But first I should talk about the book.
This is a great book. A first person account by an average soldier with no apparent exaggeration or didacticism. Pretty much every situation you can imagine a soldier would get into is presented but it never feels contrived. In fact, very little of the book involves actual fighting, which only adds to the realism. We have seen this so many times in the years since this book was written. We probably don't even realize how influential this book has been. And if some things in this book feel clichéd, you can probably blame all those imitators that came afterwards.
But what makes the book stand out is the character of its narrator. His feelings about his situation, his feelings about his comrades, his reactions to what happens, his observations about the war, his recounting the opinions of the people he meets. Whatever illusions he may have had about fighting for his country, they are soon replaced by the reality of modern warfare. His loyalty is to his comrades. His main concerns are about things like getting enough to eat keeping his feet dry. These observations build quietly and powerfully through the whole book, and that is what makes it such an effective statement about war and the universality of mankind.
I'll shut up now and let the book speak for itself.
Frank Muller does a terrific job of conveying the tone of the bored soldier struggling to preserve his personhood. I only recently discovered this reader and am sorry to learn that he is no longer with us.
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