I had read multiple reviews of this book that said it was dark, and it is but only in a nihilistic, deterministic way--it was not that depressing to me, but maybe it should have been. Either way, I could hardly resist the quirkiest character ensemble since the Wizard of Oz. The crew selected to make first contact consists of a biologist so interfaced with hardware that his wetware is now buggy, a linguist with surgically induced Multiple Personality Disorder, a military officer with too much empathy for her enemies, and a designated observer who comprehends more with his one remaining brain hemisphere than most do with both. The mission commander is a genetically resurrected vampire and the ship is captained by an AI.
They are off to see some truly alien aliens whose actions are less scary than their implications. The book is a study of consciousness, sentience, and the Chinese Room concept. This is definitely hard SF with lots of scientific concepts and terminology, but most of the time you can grasp the science from context when it is not explained outright. That was not a big deterrent for me and I actually learned a great deal.
The Peter Watts website also has some interesting end notes.
Audible had a deal on this title and I was curious to see if Brown's writing was worth the incredible hype surrounding him so I gave it a try.
As for the style of Brown's prose: it's entirely adequate, but nothing exceptional or even distinctive.
As for plot: Riveting, but far from believable. Plenty of deus ex machina and unlikely coincidences balance stupid decisions made by the characters. I'll give him credit for making all parties equally fallible yet insanely lucky.
The climax was hard to listen to, not because it's very tense (which it is) but because the tension is for the wrong reason. They need a code and have a clue to finding it. I don't have a background in science or history, but the minute I heard the clue the answer is instantly (and blindingly) obvious. Yet we're supposed to believe that a brilliant cryptographer, a genius software coder, the Director of the NSA, and a room full of others take nearly 15 MINUTES to figure it out?
It's paced well and makes you want to see what happens next, but as with so many other thrillers the cookie-cutter writing and characters like the supermodel cryptographer and the action hero linguistics professor make it seem like an otherwise good book dumbed down for the best-seller market.
I don't know how boring I must be to become so engrossed in a text about the history of English grammar, but I was rapt nonetheless. McWhorter makes some good points and backs them up, but is realistic about the chances of his conclusions being adopted by the linguistics community.
A book so dependent on the way words are pronounced SHOULD be read by a linguist and fortunately McWhorter is a very good narrator. He sounds neither dry nor melodramatic. My only complaint is that when speaking Japanese his accent is almost as bad as my own, but given the number of languages referenced he does an admirable job of delivering phrases from such a wide range of sources.
The author said in a description of the book that she was partly inspired by 1980s G.I. Joe comics. That was enough to make me give it a chance. I'm glad I did.
I liked how the three narratives (Evie, "Alex", and the storeroom) developed (two forward in time, one backward) and were neatly tied together near the end.
Given the premise, it could have easily mushroomed into an overwhelming epic with hundreds of characters, and conceivably may yet although the ending was such that sequels really aren't needed.
I still don't know how I feel about the ending. In a way it was cheating, but it's an interesting way to resolve the conflicting sides.
One problem though was the female narrator's portrayal of male characters. She overdid the gruffness of her voice, making them all sound like caricatures.
When I discovered that Lev Grossman is the brother of Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible) I was immediately curious to see how their prose compared. It turns out Lev's writing is COMPLETELY different but no less brilliant.
The first half of this book is amazing. Even though you know there will be revelations they are still surprising and they just keep coming.
After graduation though, it just plods for a loooong time. It's also around this time that Quentin does something that completely removes any chance of his remaining a sympathetic character. The whole bit in Narnia...um, I mean "Fillory" is much more tedious than the mundane world but maybe that's intentional. Anyway, the ending ties it all together fairly well.
My biggest complaint involves the drinking. Not the fact that everybody drinks (and believe me they do...HEAVILY...ALL THE TIME), but it's superfluous and pretentious to name all the various drinks as if anybody cares what TYPE of wine they drank way too much of for every single occasion.
Far from being tedious, I found Martin's explanation of his career and techniques appropriate and extremely practical. His thoughts are what drive his actions and therefore the plot.
Many of the other characters are thinly developed, but that fits as well since we can only see the aspects of other people that Martin recognizes.
To some extent, Martin may do for obsessive compulsives what Dexter Morgan did for sociopaths: pull back the curtain a little to show how their minds work and make them more personable.
I was a little disappointed and confused when the parrot was introduced and that subplot began to develop only to be left hanging. Nothing ever comes of it.
This is an entertaining story and worth the listen, but it could have benefited from further editing. I usually appreciate and enjoy infodumps, but Huddy includes a good bit of information that is not only irrelevant to the story but simply boring, such as the complete mailing address of a house where one of the accomplices lived years before any of the events described took place. Nothing actually HAPPENED there, but we are told in minute detail where it is anyway. It's fairly clear the author's view was "I spent years researching this book and I want everybody to see how thorough I was." Mission accomplished, but it seriously bogs down and distracts from the narrative in places.
He also seems to ascribe emotions and thought processes to some people that it seems doubtful he could have derived from interviews long after the fact, particularly those who were killed before Huddy even began his research.
As always, Stefan Rudnicki's narration is excellent.
I can't understand why titles in a series are so often released out of order. Fortunately I was already familiar with both Cally's War and Sister Time (the latter is STILL not available at Audible as of this writing). To be familiar with the histories of several characters, you also need to have read nearly all the other Aldenata books as well.
After accomplishing that feat, this book has a couple of serious revelations and the O'Neal vs. O'Neal climax is not to be missed. Apparently this novel sets the stage for Eye of the Storm which I hope Audible will have in the near future.
This is military SF written by an author with military experience. If you judge books by PC standards, skip this one. It's violent, pro-military, pro-US, hilarious in places, and extremely satisfying. It's thick with rank, tradition, jargon, and tactical detail, but even if you don't like that it's still worth the listen just to get to the "Immigrant Song" scene.
Don't bother with Shooter by Coughlin. This is much better. Halberstadt actually gives details about sniper training and HOW they do the things they do. Also, this book features the perspectives of several different snipers for a more rounded view. Very informative
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