Sweden | Member Since 2013
I have noticed that reviewers are very divided on this book. I am one of those that found it amazingly entertaining. But might it be for you?
I had not read anything by Brin before, but will now. "Existence" tells me he is one of the authors that puts more emphasis on ideas rather than characters, sometimes even creating characters only to illustrate a philosophical notion.
To me then, he is an expert in making the philosophy I love come to life. He shows how abstract thinking might matter and he makes thinking the central activity around which the novel revolves. I would place him in the tradition of Asimov's Foundation series, although the philosophy Brin represents, is less invested in modernist and chauvinist notions of man's control over nature and the future. Brin's characters cannot control society or plan the future, but they try to matter in a universe driven by chance and that is partial to diversity.
So, if you are a lover of philosophy and other fields of ideas, you will love this book. On the other hand, if you find philosophical thinking boring, you will probably find the novel boring. Thirdly, if you are a person that have difficulty following abstract lines of reasoning, it is possible you will find the book difficult to follow and its plot full of lacunae. Many reviewers have this third kind of comments on the book, which actually made me a bit hesitant before I bought it. Although my comprehension of English is quite good, I do have difficulties following novels where timelines and plots are experimentally rearranged for some lyrical purpose. To my relief, I found "Existence" is not one of those novels. My conjecture is therefore that Brin's book is difficult to follow if you have difficulties following the ideas that are the actual core of the book. The plot does make some jumps in time here and there, and those can be irritating if you are invested in a certain character or series of events. The jumps are much more tolerable if you follow the ideas Brin develops.
There are however two slight shortcomings. Brin overuses the cliff-hanger trope. When every chapter ends with something akin to "He turned around and could not believe his eyes", it does become a nuisance. Secondly, although Brin mostly explores ideas, he sometimes starts to advocate them and does it too openly. The whole point of the plot, I would argue, is that humankind have choices and needs to embrace diversity. As that is a viewpoint I endorse, I am always hesitant when sci-fi authors advocate a certain way of doing things, rather than explore hypothetical scenarios. Brin should have excluded his postscript in particular, where he openly "explains" the thinking behind the novel and comes with some frustrating admonishments for humanity. I believe the novel is much more effective when that kind of advocacy is left out. With those two shortcomings, this otherwise brilliant novel only gets four "story stars" from me.
I enjoy Lovecraft and think that books using his primordial, uncaring monsters in a modern setting is a great idea. But to enjoy Beck's books about Alex Hunter, liking Lovecraft is not enough. Hunter and his cohorts are taken from more mainstream, American light action fiction, with flexing muscles, contempt for "thinkers" and oneliners about what "must be done". For me, it is extremely frustrating to read how this Hunter exposes his team to risks because he doesn't think things through (and probably because the author needs some nice action scenes).
So if you like Lovecraft AND muscle-packed American soldiers running around saving the day - despite refusing to stop and think - you will love Beck's books. If you enjoy Lovecraft, but prefer his Victorian-style, thinking, although verging-on-the-insane protagonists, you will probably be disappointed. I am a bit surprised about the praise this book gets on Amazon. I guess more people fit the first category than I thought.
I should add that the Gorgon monster is interesting and menacing and that the opening scenes of the book are great. It's when the Americans take over that Beck looses me...
While I thought Blue Remembered Earth (the first of the Poseidon's Children series) only average, with On The Steel Breeze Reynolds returns to the levels of mastery I associate with many of his other books. Again, the scope is enormous, entailing the nature of politics, emotions, intergenerational ties, time, artificial intelligence, morality and God... And amazingly, he succeeeds in weaving these threads into a believable tightly knit whole.
I am a fan of space opera, and so it should come as no surprise I find Reynolds so marvelous. Still, I think this book and the upcoming series deserves a much broader audience.
There are some scenes in the book that should have particular interest for debates on morality and God, where the knowledge of being surveilled by powerful entities impacts (or not, depending on your interpretation) deeply moral decisions. Would love to hear them debated.
The elephants are an interesting theme throughout the book, but I don't think Reynolds has used them as fully in the narrative as their repeated mentioning might make sensical. I suspect they will make their presence more known in future installments of the series.
An earlier reviewer remarks that the books feels unfinished, perhaps as an outcome of the $1m contract Reynolds has with his publisher for the series. I am sure the book could be better (as could any book) and it might be it does not reach the full heights of some books in the Revelation Space series. Still, Reynolds manages to push all of the right buttons with me, which means I would not be able to give the book less than a full score. I cannot imagine Reynolds-fans will be disappointed.
Adjoa Andoh does a really good job giving voice to the different characters and the tense emotions that sometimes grip them. Admittedly, I have always felt Reynolds books are better in audio than on paper, perhaps partly thanks to the narrators.
I inevitably compare Sand to the Silo series, for which Howey became famous. Sand is the inferior text, but does have some of the elements that made Silo great.
As with the Silo series, Sand revolves around its competently invented world. It is a desolate world, where sand constantly covers natural and human structures, burying them and making them temporary. The surface is thus ever changing, but beneath the feet of men lies history, both known and unknown. The book focuses on a family and their hard work to survive. Most have taken on the profession as sand divers, meaning they use futuristic technology to go below the dunes and pick up what things of value have been left in the sand. But with water scarce, life is hard and the workload heavy.
What fascinated me most about the world in Sand, was what could be found beneath the dunes. There is a history hidden there that slowly starts to be revealed. The feel to these parts of Sand are most like Silo, as it lets the reader slowly discover startling facts about the mysterious enviroment.
For some reason though, Howey decides that other aspects of the world he has built, should come centre-stage (I refrain from revealing which aspects). Although there is some exploration of history and sand diving, the novel ultimately takes the reader in another - and I would say less satisfactory - direction. That makes me come away with some sense of disappointment, unfortunately.
But Sand is a good book, no doubt. The characters have depth and meaning in the story and let you care for them, Howey is a skilled writer that use both prosaic and lyrical styles to create his texts, and above all he is an extremely talented creator of worlds. The book certainly has political and philosophical messages that feel relevant and well-put. Still, I wish the book had dwelled more on what was below the sand, than what happened on its surface. And I wish that, even while realizing that chooing surface and contemporary matters before depth and history, may have philosophical and political underpinnings that I might even agree with.
A brainy, yet compassionate novel exploring its philosophical premise about the existence of God. I love it! I particularly enjoyed the dialogue between the two main characters, as they battle theological questions while trying to overcome the human/alien communicative divide.
The alien Hollus lands at the Royal Ontario Museum and asks to speak to a paleontologist. Against expectations, he bonds with Thomas Jericho, the ROM's expert in prehistoric life. But as Hollus and his race soon turn out to be theists, Jericho finds himself defending his atheist default position as a scientist. Events in Jericho's life play into his discussions with Hollus.
It is quite evident that Sawyer enjoys playing with sci-fi tropes, and the book is full of references to Star Trek. He skillfully uses Spock's evident humanness - or the question of similarities or dissimilarities between humans and alien races - as a brick in the theist/atheist debate. Trekkies like myself are bound to love it.
One negative comment on the book concerns its repetitious handling of Jericho's private life. It is understandable and acceptable that the author wants to inject Jericho's views about God with concerns for his private relationships and thoughts about his own death. It is even central that Jericho has a private life to give him a personality beyond his role as an informed atheist and thus avoiding making this another book of mere opinions. But Sawyer himself is fairly uninterested in this part of the story, and so Jericho's relationship to his wife and son is reduced to "I loved her so much", "I did not want to leave her", "I felt tears welling up inside as I heard my son speak those words". When this kind of platitudes are repeated for the n'th time, it get annoying. A bit more tension, some more life in the family life, had been appropriate.
Also, I don't get why the point about the two Christian fundamentalists (that fundamentalism is bad?) should take up so much space/time in the book? Is it really that important to the narrative?
Otherwise a fine, well-thought out book. People who don't like to ponder the meaning of life and related questions, will probably not get the point. All of us who do, should read it.
I recently read an interview with Joe Hill. He argued that a good idea for a story can only draw readers in; what makes them go on reading is the characters. That could be the epigraph for Doctor Sleep, and indeed for most of King's oeuvre.
Dan from The Shining grows up, inherits his father's drinking problem, get to know a girl with a big "shine" whom he takes under his wings - only to end up in a face off with a bunch of quasi-vampires, living of the shine of tortured young children.
I never was a huge fan of King, but I have read his novels as acceptable entertainment. Doctor Sleep is the quintessential King to my mind; very likeable (and very American) protagonist and some enjoyably evil antagonists, who "vibrate" with your darker nature. These characters work their way through a narrative that starts out with a good idea, but then becomes extremely predictable and much too long. In this case I would say we get the story (and what is going to happen) from about 1/3 into the book. I continued listening just because of the characters.
King himself admits to having written Doctor Sleep because he wanted to know what happened to the people from The Shining. And I kind of agree with him, characters are important and he is an expert in describing (very American) personalities. BUT I simply don't agree character development is the be all and end all of good novels. Doctor Sleep (and several of King's other novels) is missing something and I could not help noticing: it is missing idea development. Yes, people sucking life force out of phychic kids by turturing them is a good idea. But you can't write a whole novel on that theme by just filling up the rest with good characters! A short story for sure, but not 540 pages! That soup becomes too thin.
Or that is what I think and I seem to be in minority. Mind you, it is not that I hated Doctor Sleep or thought it was "King's worst novel". King's recipe for novels work up to a point, but it does not five-stars books make.
(In parenthesis, King's protagonists are all so very American. They struggle with some problem and triumph by living the American dream. Interestingly, his antagonists are usually less American and more European, often making references to "the old continent" and having traits reminiscent of the old, feudal aristocracy. Could not help noticing the quasi-vampires in Doctor Sleep had had a history as travellers in Europe, a notion problematically drawing on the imagery of European Romanies. Someone should do a study on the representation of ethnicities in King, could be revealing.)
This is a nicely composed narrative about loneliness, social class and horror. As an avid fan of horror movies and books, I think there is little in the genre that can scare me. With Dark Matter, I actually had a delicious moment when I was lying alone in bed, listening to the narrative and starting to fantasize what might lie in wait for me in the darkness under the bed. As a Scandinavian, I like the fact that the author has drawn on some of our Scandi myths, although I might be less scared of the arctic night than people who have never experienced it.
I particularly like that the main protagonist, Jack, faces the horrors on Spitsbergen not as a hero, but because he is too afraid to display his fright to his social superiors. In a sense then, the novel shows how shame triumphs over dread.
I really enjoyed the performance by Jeremy Northam, who skillfully acted out, rather than merely read the novel. Could not help notice that he pronounced the Norwegian words quite well, guess he has done his homework.
Still, despite this being an entertaining book and despite the really well developed personage gallery and social themes, this kind of horror novel always follows a given path. Dark Matter does not do anything new with the genre and simply adds a bit of depth and detail to a narrative we have read/heard in numerous other books. This does not take away from its entertainment value, and the author never promises anything else. Nevertheless, this bars me from giving the book five stars, which I will save for the more innovative examples of the genre.
I guess I'm too young to have read Brin when his Uplift books were first published. I discovered him through his much more recent Existence and wanted to check out his earlier work. I was not disappointed.
While the premise of the story revolves around humans "lifting" animal species to sentience, this is a minor subplot of the book. The novel belongs to the hard sci-fi gene, with numerous alien spaces, new technologies, societies and ideas. The reader is early introduced to the concept that most species in the universe was "lifted" and that feudal-like hierarchies exist around the facts about who lifted whom.The ambiguous and controversial position of humanity in this hierarchy is the real kernel of the book and is the theme around which the intrigue revolves.
The book will appeal to anyone who is into hard sci-fi, like me. While his recent Existence did remind me a bit of writer like Asimov, Sundiver is even closer to Asimov's style of writing and story development. Still, I would say Brin's characters are slightly more developed than the generic male superheroes in Asimov. Most of Brin's personae are actually quite interesting and believable, I particularly enjoy his depictions of alien individuals and their difficulties with human behavior.
1980 is 34 years ago and while the novel's ideas and premises do not feel dated, some of the gendered interaction does. It strikes me how far contemporary sci-fi has come in depicting gender-equal societies, when a writer like Brin still struggled with this aspect in 1980. Helene deSilva is captain of a starship, but goes irrational and submissive when she falls for the protagonist, a male ubermensch who "couldn't be broken by anything". And when some aliens seem to lack gender, they are simply called "he", even though human authorities prefer to have women as space explorers. Oh, well...
If you can ignore these gendered tell-tale signs of its age and if you like space opera/hard sci-fi, you will like Sundiver. I am looking forward to reading the other books in the Uplift saga and hope that they will approach the excellence I found in Existence. I would not say Sundiver reaches those heights, but it is an early work by the author and the book is still pretty darn good.
This is a book I really wanted to enjoy. It has a really interesting sci-fi/fantasy premise and tries to be philosophically and politically informed - that should chime with me, and initially it does. Renee is recruited into an ancient society of people with the ability to change people's minds, an ability they have decided to use to only incrementally change the world for the better. Debates about good or bad ensues, promising the kind of cerebral adventure I admit to being fond of. But this promising beginning is evaporated as the authors suddenly tries to make this a book about facing change, as they create a villain who instead - horror! - want stability. This quickly devolves into a strange storyline where the protagonists have to defend the possibility of change (changing other people?) against the threat of neurotic stagnation (although I never get what should change and what threatens to stagnate) ... But wasn't the story about the difficulties establishing what is good and bad, and the curse of having the power to change people around you? Then the authors just keeps introducing unrelated ideas. There is something about virtual worlds, and then about the power of thought, also something about justice and then power to the people! ... and I am sorry, but this doesn't hold together, not on any level. The story is not exactly empty, just overloaded with unrelated ideas, none of which is explored to any depth. And nothing grips me, sadly. Though I had loved if it had...
I like the performance, Porter and Kowal do a splendid job with a difficult material. They kept me listening even after the point at which I had realized the narrative would not get any more exciting.
The characters, I am sorry to say, are vividly described, but not believable. Let's see... We have an almost two thousand years old person who after all that time writes a letter which turns out to be the first in which he risks making a fool of himself before a woman? And a several hundred years old guy who mind travels to other bodies, has his own inner mind garden, changes other people's minds at will ... and who is a Marxist materialist?
And I am sorry, but I don't get the antagonist. At one point it just turns out she is evil - because...? Oh, right, she is not EVIL evil, but merely wrong, as the protagonists say. But why does she have to be killed, suppressed... ? A lot of other characters are obviously wrong and harm to others, but they are described as nice guys...
And evidently, the protagonists are deeply engaged in exchanging and debating ideas, but suddenly prefer sex and romantic love before putting them into practice? (I really couldn't see them as protagonists after that.)
So the novel uses complicated words and refers to big thinkers? Well, a lot of people can do that trick, but precious few are great novelists. The Incrementalists is not a good novel, rather a novel that incrementally forgets the interesting plot at its centre and just goes bananas with random themes, till nothing remains.
I have just come away from some disappointing audio books and thought I might need a break from audio books generally. Wool made me change my mind. It is a real "side turner", which slowly lets the reader in on the mind-blowing secrets of its world. I love the job Howey has done with his characters; they are multifaceted, often engaging in both likable and less likable behavior. Several of the characters also go through some very believable changes. I even found myself feeling some sympathy or understanding for the less delectable characters. Furthermore, Howey is not afraid to kill off several of the main characters, which for me increases the tension and expense in the book. Beautifully written and perfect for audio, this book kept my attention throughout! Very happy I found it!
There are several moments of revelation throughout the book, and it would be difficult to summarize it without spoilers. I particularly enjoyed the character of Lukas, who really struggles with his loyalties and with what he should believe. Through him, we get to understand that none of the sides in the stories got the monopoly on moral goodness.
I am not a fan of love stories, as they are usually clichéd and shallow but intended to give stories emotional depth, something that alienates me and many other readers. There is something of those tendencies in Wool, but I salute the author for keeping them to a minimum and for also describing some of love's negative emotions, especially envy.
Great performance by Scott Brick! Interesting characters, nicely carved out and multifaceted. Believable social developments in the small group of explorers as they come face to face with danger. Really liked the plot, which sucked me in from the outset.
There are several rather cheasy moments towards the end of the book that could have been left out. Overall, the ending is a bit of a let-down. And I really don't get why the main protagonist, an independant and serious reseacher, suddently use her sexuality to reach her goals at the beginning of the book? But overall a nicely entertaining and believable book, despite the unbelievable story.
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