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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mystic River


Mystic River
Dennis Lehane
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; First edition. edition (July 22, 2003)
ISBN-10: 0060584750

This book was recommended to me by Joe Hurka, who I took a memoir-writing course with last spring. He seemed to feel that I would not only find it an example of good writing, but also enjoyable. My friends Tim and Carole both had good things to say about it as well. That, and I've been curious about the mystery genre for a while now. Because, honestly, I love mysteries. Loved 'em as a kid, still love 'em. I take great joy in puzzling them out, and many of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors are those who include an element of mystery in their writing (Timothy Zahn, in particular, is good at this). So, I decided to take a look.

It's pretty awesome.The short, not spoiled version—three kids are playing in the street when a strange car pulls up. One kid gets in, two kids don't. Bad things happen to the kid who gets in. The tenuous friendship between the three kids falls apart.

Years later, the kids are all grown up, all living in the same town, and still not friends. A murder in a local park brings them back into contact with each other. Without giving away too much, one kid becomes a cop, one kid becomes the father of the murder victim, and one kid becomes a suspect. The plot goes from there. It is, as one would suspect, filled with a lot of twists and turns, several of which I did not see coming at all.

Lehane does an excellent job of keeping the reader guessing, without having to resort to weird deus ex machina tricks to make himself seem clever. The book definitely hooked me. I actually put off reading my weekly fix because I was absorbed in trying to finish it. A lot of the characters are pretty interesting, and Lehane does a good job of making even his side characters entertaining (I love the Savage brothers, at least as an image). Overall, good stuff. I've got another one of Lehane's books, Shutter Island, on my shelf, and I'll probably break down and read it soon.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Feast for Crows


A Feast for Crows

George RR Martin

Publisher: Spectra

ISBN: 0553801503

For those who don’t know, A Feast for Crows is the fourth book in George RR Martin’s (GRRM) Song of Fire and Ice series. It is,without question, one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. It’s engaging,well-written, and original. It is also fantastically brutal. Do not read this series if you can’t handle characters dying, because they do. Sometimes with great frequency (though the death toll in this one is not quite as high).

A Feast for Crowshas been a long time coming. Apparently (I just learned this today, and it may not be entirely accurate), Martin had originally intended to set the fourth book five years after the third, to allow some of the characters time to age. This idea proved infeasible, and eventually, he scrapped it and went back to writing the narrative. And write he must have, because this book is really only half the book. The other half, A Dance for Dragons should be out some time next year, or so Martin “devoutly hopes”. I devoutly hope so too, because metasomething and the 3rd member of the Hawaiian Syndicate have both threatened me with physical violence forgetting them started on this series when it isn’t finished. I fear metasomething’s threats much more, especially since he’s better armed. Hawaiian#3 would probably just poison me…but it’d be tasty poison.

I digress.

A Feast for Crows focuses on events taking place on the northern continent, mostly around King’s Landing. Martin continues with his alternating point-of-view chapters, where each is dedicated to a different character. Focal characters in this book include Arya Stark/Cat/No One, Cersei and Jamie Lannister, Brienne, Sansa Stark/Alayne,Samwell Tarly, and a few others. Cersei is the big new one, and the focus for a lot of the events taking place near the throne. I enjoyed her chapters a lot,in part because it gives some interesting insight into a character who has previous been portrayed as a psychotic bitch. Now…she may still be a psychotic bitch, but these chapters make her much easier to understand, and harder to hate. The only character I’ve found completely despicable at this point is Joffery, her son…who exhibited not a single redeeming impulse whatsoever.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and a number of very interesting things happen in it. I do feel like I need to re-read the first three, and then read this again. I’m sure that there are clues I’m missing and events I’m not getting because I’ve forgotten some major plot points. Maybe I’ll do a re-read over winter break, or something.

The book is good, but it isn’t perfect. The major problem,for me, is that it does feel like half a book. We get next to nothing about Jon Snow, and absolutely nothing about Daenerys, so the book feels much smaller than previous ones. There’s a sense of something missing, and I finished the book wanting more, not just about the characters, but about everything that’s going on.

I also found that it’s getting harder for Martin to surprise me. Maybe it’s because he’s such a brutal writer, but I found that some moments that seemed like they might be suspenseful…weren’t. Knowing that eh was likely to maim or kill a character served not to make me worried (as it has previously), but to make me accepting, almost resigned to their fates. Maybe I’m just not caring as much about this particular set of characters (though I like the Starks, and I’m starting to warm to Jamie).

Also, Littlefinger seems to me to be the Palpatine of this series. The guy no one takes seriously until it’s way to late. I hope that’s true. I love Palpatine, and like Littlefinger too.

All in all, it’s definitely a series worth reading.


Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Olympos


Title: Olympos

Author: Dan Simmons

Publisher: Eos (June 28, 2005)

ISBN: 0380978946

Olympos is the sequel to Ilium, Dan Simmons's tale of a far-future Earth, where powerful gods live on Mars and re-create the Iliad, and a few hundred thousand "old-style" humans are left living in a pseudo-paradise on Earth.

As a book, Olympos is MUCH more active than Ilium. Ilium is a setup piece. It establishes the various characters, from Dr. Thomas Hockenberry, PhD, a resurrected twenty-first century scholar, to Orpho of Io and Mahamut of Europa, a pair of cybernetic organisms called Moravecs who live on the outer planets of the solar system, and are interested in various aspects of old Earth human culture (Orpho likes Proust, Mahamut likes Shakespeare). Some old-style humans, a couple of Homeric heroes, a number of gods, and a couple of sentient computer programs round out the cast. Oh, and an evil entity that feeds on human suffering and terror.

One of the things I enjoy most about Simmons is that he thinks BIG. I have no idea how scientifically feasible his concepts are, but it's hard not to be awed by ideas like the Breach, an enormous, force-field created tunnel that runs through the middle of the Atlantic ocean, or nano-technology that warps quantum probability to ensure that a man can only be killed in a single way. It's like Star Trek tech (which is, in itself, pretty crazy) jacked up to 11. It's great.

His characters vary somewhat in quality. I really liked Orpho and Mahamut, and Simmons versions of Achilles and Odysseus seem pretty spot on to me. Achilles, in particular, is a lot of fun. He's a whole lot of attitude, but he can back it up, and the attitude is done well. Simmons gets the various Greek gods pretty dead on too.

The humans, I'm less impressed with. Hockenberry is interesting, and in some ways, is the most accessible character (being a twentieth century scholar thrust into a crazy world), but for some reason, I have a hard time empathizing with him. He seems almost TOO aware of how out of place he is in the events that are taking place around him, and it's a bit wearing after a while. The various old-style humans, I found less engaging than the rest of the cast. They have some interesting struggles, and one of them finds out some incredibly crucial information, but I just didn't emotionally connect with them. Likewise, Prospero and Ariel didn't do much for me, but they're really side characters in the end. Important side characters, but side characters nonetheless.

It's very hard to talk about the plot, since it hinges on events that happened in a previous book, and discussing it too much would spoil the mystery. Suffice it to say, it's appropriately huge and epic, and overall, pretty enjoyable. There are enormous quantities of literary references, but Simmons manages to explain most of them in the text. There's some religious references that don't get explained as well, unfortunately, and I know there's some things I'm not quite getting, mostly because I know very little about Christianity. Still, there's enough explained that I never felt totally lost (except when I was supposed to), and the book wraps up enough questions that I'm fairly well satisfied.

Overall, it's a good book. Better than Ilium, which contained a number of authorial rants about how people interpret Shakespeare that not only wrecked the flow of the story, but felt totally out of place. The pace is quicker, stuff happens, and there's some genuine tension about the ending. I won't speak of the ending itself, except to say that it was somewhat disappointing. For all of the interesting stuff that's created in this story, there's a few too many loose ends. Worse, the ending is...well...let's just say it didn't have the emotional tone or weight I hoped it would. It's not quite a JMS ending (the worst kind), but it's not wonderful either. Though it does contain the opening lines of the Iliad, and that's never bad. If you enjoy ultra-tech style sci-fi, epic struggles, and occasional ponderings about literature, it's worth the read.