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.
HBOs wonderful adaptation of this series shows that there's a gripping story with great characters buried under the mountain of excess verbiage that George Martin has piled up in these books. He has excellent qualities as a short story writer, but he is a failure as a novelist. He is incapable of editing his material into the kind of fast moving adventure embodied on HBO, and his editors are either incompetent or incapable of controlling his excesses.
This single volume is almost as long as the entire LOTR cycle, yet contains 1/10 the plot. It's as if Tolkiens publisher told him, "We really liked LOTR. Keep the same plot & characters, but make it five times as long & string it out. Add some sex to keep it interesting." Martin is a much better writer than Robert Jordan, but he's fallen into the same pit. This book could easily be 1/2 as long or less & be a much better read. The news that this overblown wretched excess was originally only half of a planned volume that included "Crows" is mind boggling.
There are so many detailed descriptions of meals in is book that it would make a good drinking game (Drink a shot every time a new dish is eaten.) Was George on a diet when he wrote it? Details of dress are worthy of Joan Rivers at the Oscars. Minor characters have their family tree described for generations. Instead of one metaphor to establish a mood, Martin piles on five or six, diluting the effect.
Worst of all, the subplots in this book are strung out forever and not much happens. The Daenerys storyline in particular is plodding, boring & sounds like shlocky Edgar Rice Burroughs. She's become obtuse, learns nothing & then has a contrived plot changing epiphany at the end. Unforgivably, Dotrice makes her sound like an 80 year old. Stannis's advance though the snow takes longer than Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in War and Peace. Tyrion's story is the most interesting, but he bounces around like a pinball.
George, get a good editor & listen. What a waste!
Even for Dickens, there is a wonderful collection of characters here. My personal favorite is the lawyer Jaggers, against whom all other such portrayals must be measured. (It's amazing how little the sharp legal mind has changed in 150 years!) This is another fine narration by "Frederick Davidson"(the late David Case) It's obvious he is enjoying the material, an infectious enthusiasm shared by this listener.
The right pace, tone and delivery are essential to a successful narration of this book, and Mr. Davidson is just about perfect for this material. This is not a technicolor slam bang James Bond spy movie -- it's more like black & white Graham Greene. There is a fair amount of subtle humor here, and it is the understated. ironic British kind. Mr. Davidson delivers it with just the right touch of detached bemusement
This is a novel about the quiet rhythms and nuances of investigation, interrogation and confession. Although well plotted with the usual trappings of the espionage novel, it is essentially character driven. George Smiley is a masterful creation.
Le Carre is in a spare and elegiac mood. This has to be one of his most personal books. Maybe an aquired taste. If you see the word "Spy" and think "Ludlum," walk on by. This novel is for savouring the moment, not a breathless "page turner." I found it very rewarding.
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