i may be a bad person… i’ve chatted with some people who love Butcher’s Codex Alera series. i powered through the first 1/3 of the first book (“Furies of Calderon”) before i threw in the towel. Really i think it’s just the tempo and style of the writing that throws me.
i am NOT saying this is a bad book by any stretch, just that it’s not a book for me personally. Butcher did some really cool things with the elemental forces of the world, bonding them with users who could then harness that power in a sort of partnership. That hooked me early on, but i managed to spit the hook right out.
Book Club of One grade: N/A. On Butcher’s series don’t ask me. Find a reviewer who finished at least the first book and see what they though. Buuuut, for me it’s a solid pass.
i have a weakness for a good chick-flick. Its a fact that few of even my close friends know about me. To me people who say they hate The Notebook are either lying or sociopathic! i’m also (as this Book Club of One project would indicate) pretty dang nerdy! So Time Traveler’s Wife manages to scratch two itches reeeeaaal good!
Niffenegger does a good job of putting a new spin on time travel. In TTW (long title, abreviation established… let’s just accept it for this post) time travel is sporadic, uncontrolable, mysterious. There’s not quantum particals, no Time And Relative Dimension In Space vehicle, no 1.21 Gigawatts or 88 MPH… there’s just Richard DeTamble bouncing around occasionally in the time continuum. Uncontrollable, sporadic, sometimes amusing, sometimes touching, often dangerous; he arrives T-800 style butt-naked.
Niffenegger paints some very interesting pictures with her novel. What happens if love between two people occurs out side of a predictible linear time-line? If good people appear random times and places without so much as their skivies how do they learn to cope with that?
Characters feel rich and developed, the story of Richard and Claire’s love together is equally rich. Most of the supporting cast also feel well rounded, complex, and interesting. The origins of the time travel problem are interesting. Some scenes are steamy enough to fog up a mirror but never feel distasteful. (side note: as a male i’m often very interested in how female authors write about sex and sexuality. Niffenegger did a good job depicting sexuality from both sides of the gender coin, both from Claire’s viewpoint and from Richard’s. Kudos)
Book Club of One grade: A+ i recomend this one with zero reservations. This is a book i’d throw into the ring of a non-nerd book club too, you know one with more than one person in it haha. Paced well, great characters, thought provoking, i’ll likely re-read this one agin in a few years.
Consider Phlebas is the opening novel in the Culture Series, written by Banks. The series is most often branded as a Space-Opera and i think that fits it just fine. It’s fast moving, full of big spectacular sci-fi tech that would make for great visuals on a movie screen, and the characters are often fast-talkers who are entertaining to the reader.
The opener focuses on a “changer” named Horza. From a fading race of humanoids who are basically sci-fi doppelgangers (with a few extra bells and whistles, poison bells and whistles). He’s the fastest talker of them all in the book and throughout his dialogue was probably my favorite thing in the book.
A little like Perdido Street Station the book reads like watching someone’s table-top RPG campaign, one with lots of charisma based checks in it. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail.
Book Club of One Score: B-; if you want a hefty book that’s still a fast-paced read and want your imagination to soar at the visuals then consider Consider Phlebas (see what i did there?).
If reading is an amazing jet-craft of the imagination, allowing us to soar to new heights… then i’ve pulled the ejection lever on both of these series.
Let’s start with the nerd-blasphemy first: my inability to engage with The Thrawn Trilogy. i’m VERY well aware that so many Star Wars devotees sing it’s praises. This series is allegedly “The sequels we SHOULD have gotten”, but i’m glad we didn’t! My struggles with the series probably arise from my general distaste for fan-fictions, which the series feels so very much like. The writing seemed capably done, the story-line was moderate (as far as i got), and it is so very well received in general that i fully own it’s not you Thrawn Trilogy… it’s me! i’ll take my Star Wars on the big screen.
Then it’s The Book of New Sun, a series that Neil Gaiman has said very complementary things about. It is VERY skillfully written, the prose is absolutely beautiful throughout. The story-line sounds very engaging as well. So why is it that i constantly find myself in drone-mode reading pages without ever actually reading them? i’ll just be reading along and suddenly find myself completely lost narratively. One second we’re in the room of an inn with strangers and the next we’re crashing a cart into some sort of ruins! “Where is that large automobile, This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife!!!” (shout out to the Talking Heads). i think, we just jumped to this spot but upon flipping back i find that it was all there, i just slipped into a trance and missed it all. This is not a problem i typically have with books.
In summary: Life is short. Life is uncertain. You shouldn’t waste life on bad food (unless it’s so bad it comes back around the horizon of badness and becomes good again, like a deep-fried Twinkie), bad beer, or frenemies! Also, know when to hold em, fold em, and when to walk away. i felt like it was my time to walk away from both of these series.
Book Club of One Grade: (inconclusive on both) i don’t want to grade something i haven’t fully engaged with. Give em a go for yourself (i hear the Thrawn Trilogy is amazing haha).
Anathem is a meaty sci-fi romp through a number of philosophical thought experiments. When i use the term “meaty” here i mean meaty like a primal cut of beef brisket: It’s large (this is quite a read), and dense (i’d guess close to 50% of the word-count of Anathem is dedicated to philosophical debates).
The Title “Anathem” is a mashing together of Anathema and Anthem and refers to a sort of ceremony of disgrace that takes place during the story.
Stephenson does a good job using a sci-fi setting that’s not Earth to make some great observations about life on Earth as we know it. Two of my favorite of these observations were the “Jeejaw” and “Slines”.
Jeejaws are the cell-phones of Stephenson’s world. The world is seperated into Avout and Saeculars. Avout are those pledged to a monastic tradition and committed to a minimalist lifestyle, most of the main characters are Avout. Saeculars represent basically everyone else in the world. The Avout live without Jeejaws and they find them to be intrusive and great distractions when they move out and interact with the Saecular world. It was just another nudge to help me see the intrusive impact my own cell-phone has made in my life.
Slines: Slines represent a sort of popular culture consumer in the Saecular world. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider to those enamored with popular culture you’ll likely find in the Slines a familiar sort of occurrence…
The story-line is pretty sweeping overall (but the book is certainly long enough to contain such an ambitious plot). You’ll travel from simple monastery life, through Anathem’s world-at-large, and eventually wind up in space with pan-dimensional beings… Things wrap up with a very jarring, and intriguing, exploration into the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, with an interesting twist asking, “what if the many worlds have some sort of effect on each other?”.
Book Club of One grade: B+ Worth the read. Anathem is not light reading and sometimes it felt like the story-line was moving in fits and starts, you may spend many pages on a dinner chat then in two pages find yourself across a continent or into space itself. Overall the concepts it lays out, the social insights, and the refreshing story-line make it a fine piece of Sci-Fi.
The sweet sweet taste of speculative science fiction!
Let me open by saying there’s quite a bit i really liked about this book… and not a lot that i disliked (got ya!)
It really was a refreshing read for me: A Strange cylindrical object hurtles through our solar system. The closest space-ship makes an unplanned run for the object to see what it is and finds out it’s an alien spacecraft (cue orchestra hits here).
One of the things i most liked about Rendezvous with Rama was that it doesn’t spoon feed the reader explanations for everything the explorers find on the vessel. It’s packed with mystery the way raisin bran isn’t packed with raisins. When i finished the last page of the book it left me wondering what certain areas in the giant ship were really for, about the ecology of the place, about… well, about so very much!
i know that there is a whole series of Rama books that Clarke penned, and honestly i’m torn. Part of me wants to read them, i want to dig deeper into the mystery that is Rama with him. Yet, i also want to keep the curiosity alive and not plug it with explanations.
To pass judgement: Book Club of One grade: A. It’s fun, it’s thrilling and tense without dipping into horror. Rendezvous with Rama is a near perfect read for a long trip, by car, plane, or space craft!
Let me open this Book Club of One entry by redundantly hammering on a thing: This is a long book! One thing i’ve learned in this process is that us nerdy-folk must be drawn to thick books! If books were fast-food, sci-fi and fantasy books would be the Hardee’s/Carl’s JR’s Thick-Burgers of the book world! If novels were toast… they’d be the Texas Toast of the toast-verse! If these tales were toilet paper… they’d be triple-ply!
Observations about the average length of sci-fi/fantasy reads aside, let’s move on.
i really enjoyed A Fire Upon the Deep. While i never really got my head around Vinge’s “Zones” i liked the concepts of them. They made for some very interesting Sci-Fi reading.
Probably what i enjoyed most about A Fire Upon the Deep was the exploration into the idea of sentience. Vinge pokes at our notions of sentience without falling into the same tired tropes of many sci-fi novels. Sure, there’s a program that “becomes” sentient (or was it always a sentient presence and just needed the program to manifest itself) but it comes off as fresh. Partly because of the way he introduces and then develops it with the reader, partly because it is a new take on the idea. There are also some very interesting races. The Skroderiders are a tree-like folk who biologically lack short-term memories, but gain them by attaching themselves to mechanical motorized bases, called Skrodes – hence “Skrode-riders”. Because their natural memories are long-term based-only they bring a distinct world-view with them into the universe of the story. Another interesting race are the Tines. Tines are a sort of canine race but a single “person” consists of 4-8 individuals that are sort of telepathically linked to one another. Fewer than 4 and they are lacking in intelligence, greater than 8 and they become a sort of mob, too many conflicting minds to really form a properly functioning “person”. There are also transcendent beings, capable of manipulating physical matter as easily as we can manipulate our thoughts.
The story-line is enjoyable itself, nicely tying together medieval level action with super-advanced technological challenges! Children stranded on a low tech planet are thrust into low-tech political intrigue in their fights for survival while rescue streaks across the galaxy!
Mixed in like a dash of salt into chocolate chip cookies (if you don’t put a dash of salt into your cookies, you’re not doing cookies right) is a sort of space-internet known as “The Net”. The Net is limited by transmission bandwidth over the vastness of space. It’s full of “trolls” and half-truths (just like our current analogue in the real-world). Vinge’s frighteningly accurate portrayal of net-life is even more amazing when you consider that the book was published in 1992!
Book Club of One Grade: B+ (would be a super solid A but there’s a sort of Deux ex Machina thing that goes on). Solidly on the “read this” list for me. So good i bought a copy to put in my own personal library (which is being parred down with our down-size in dwelling, and it STILL made the cut). Not since Perdido Street Station has a setting of a book been so engaging to me!
There’s been a long delay in entries from the Book Club of One. That’s because the BCoO has been powering through The Mars Trilogy!
Red Mars, Green Mars, and the conclusion Blue Mars.
The Mars Trilogy is a Sci-Fi tome about the colonization and terraforming of our red neighbor, Mars. Robinson writes a story that is worthy of words like: “Epic” and “Saga”. If you stack the mass market paperbacks together they come pretty close to making a cube of Science Fiction print.
Robinson does some very interesting things with his trilogy. He digs into lots of social, socio-economic, and governmental issues. i’ve mentioned before how much i like it when Sci-Fi is used well to help us see issues from a fresh angle, often helping us see past our own blind spots. The Mars Trilogy follows the tales of the “First 100” (the first one hundred settlers to Mars) and their immediate descendants (mostly).
Several interesting developments arise that lead us down some long but interesting rabbit trails. A near-cure for aging is formulated, bring up issues of what that looks like morally, socially, and economically. Is the treatment a human right? Is it a benefit for the wealthy? What happens to population control when people don’t die naturally? etc, etc, etc.
There’s the turmoil between those who want to terraform Mars and those who want it left in it’s natural state (“Greens” and “Reds”, who eventually are pressured by circumstance to reach some sort of compromise… “Blues” – spoilers haha).
There’s the task of establishing a whole new government, one unlike any on Earth. Which leads to some very interesting questions.
In the end Robinson brings things back around to the basics of human existence and our search for our place in the scheme of things, leaving us with a conclusion that is tied to the intimate connections between two characters. Two characters who have been with us for the entire trilogy.
My best descriptor of the series is that it is a platform for some pretty ambitious thought experiments.
The Mars Trilogy wasn’t one of my favorite reads of this project so far, which is a real shame. “Aurora”, a newer book by Robinson (published in 2015) is one of my top reads from the past 5 years or so. If you’re looking for something by Kim Stanley Robinson i’d recommend Aurora instead, same style: still using Sci-Fi to ask big questions and think through their ramifications. Aurora is not nearly as daunting as The Mars Trilogy though.
Book Club of One Grade: C- The writing is rock solid, the series is very thorough and in-depth… but for me that may be what kept its BCoO grade lower. If you’re the kind of person who wants that daunting epic read over the summer this could be the very thing you’re looking for. If you’re like me and after some time the large cast of players and the depth become a little overwhelming, well… did i mention that Aurora is one of the best books i’ve ever read?
Things i enjoy include: good books, good book clubs, nerdiness! Those three things combine into one mighty personal project!!!
To Read ALL the Things on NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book list!!!!!
I’ve been a part of a book club for a while now, i recommend a good book club (focus on the GOOD book club part of that) if you’ve never been a part of one give it a whirl. Book Club pushed me to read so many books i’d never have given a chance on my own, and i was blown away by the experience. Due mostly to the chaotic and hectic nature of this thing we call life: that book club may be on an extended hiatus. So, i, in an effort to push myself to read more started: Book Club of One! (Discussion in my book club can get really heated, which garners some real looks when Book Club of One is held anywhere public!) NPR’s list of Sci-Fi books has become my source list for this project: to push me to read books i may not otherwise pick-up but that are still well within my personal wheel house.
Many of the books on the list i’ve already read. Some will be re-reads because it has been literal decades since i read them last. I’m a quite a few books deep into the project and it’s been quite fulfilling so far! i’ll be posting reviews here on a fairly regular basis from here out so keep your eyes peeled to see what a middle-aged fellow thinks about books that have been deemed worthy by a troop of reviewers and voters.
If you want to see the most up-to date data on my progress you can click here, this is a current doc of my journey through the books with a color code of recommendation (Green = Read it, Yellow = Read it if you have time, Red = pass on it); there are also brief notes on my overall thoughts on the books here as well: My Progress on NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books
(a link to my list is also on the side-bar of my blog page)