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.
A solid piece of work from a master of theological writings. Lewis’ spirituality doesn’t just creep into his Sci-Fi work, it pours in. This makes for a very interesting take on the Sci-Fi genre!
Of the trilogy Out of the Silent Planet is the strongest work. If you’re interested in checking it out but don’t want to read all three books you can safely read the first and never have to pick up the other two. The other two continue the story-line with the third bringing it to a close though. Silent Planet paints an interesting picture of a solar system teeming with life and Earth sequestered because of it’s sin issue. Perelandra paints a poignant picture of new life, a Garden of Eden scenario. That Hideous Strength brings everything to a close in a darker doomsday must be averted tale.
i really enjoyed the first book, i’d say Silent Planet gets a grade of A, Perelandra is a B/B-, and That Hideous Strength is a C.
Book Club of One Grade: B overall (see above for individual books though). i can’t stress how interesting Lewis’ theological bent makes the series to read. Silent Planet gets a solid recommendation for me, with an urge to press on if you find the opener compelling.
Brief review inbound:
The first book of the Farseer trilogy was soundly in the OK territory for me. If i had more time to devote to reading i may continue into the other books, but for now i’ll let the first stand for my dip into this entry on the list of NPR’s Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy books.
The first quarter of the book was difficult for me to get through. It felt flowery and over written. The middle of the book settled into a pace that was much more agreeable. The last quarter of the book was pretty dang good. All the parts combined are what make the book OK for me instead of garnering a higher personal rating.
Hobb does an amazing job building political intrigue, and “The Wit” and “The Skill” are both very interesting takes on magic/telepathy. She builds a world that’s rich with history and social structure which is nice. My biggest obstacle was honestly just the style the book is written in.
Book Club of One Grade: C. It’s a solid one though. If you have a taste for purple prose you can’t go wrong with Hobb (that’s honestly NOT a stab at all, that’s a genuine statement from me). One day, when i’m semi-retired maybe, i might return to these books to see how everything plays out. Between the magicy-mental powers and people getting “forged” (you’ll have to read the book for an explanation on what that means) the concepts are really really good.
i do love me some carl! The original Cosmos series being a cornerstone of young me’s love of all things science. i don’t know what i was expecting from Cosmos when i picked it up but what was between it’s covers felt very unexpected.
First, Sagan writes a very developed and compelling female protagonist. i really liked how complex a character she was. She really felt like a real person to me.
The first 80% of the book feel like fiction that’s about science. It shifts solidly into Sci-Fi territory in the end though. None of this is a complaint at all. It was super refreshing to get some serious scientific foundations built for a fine piece of Sci-Fi.
The pacing of Contact was slower than i’m normally drawn to but again, that’s not a complaint at all! The book had the perfect pacing for the story it was telling.
i feel like the aliens we eventually meet are exactly what you get if great minds of science dream about what could be out there! i’m very glad that Sagan turned his mega-brain to this piece of fiction.
He also raises and explores some interesting spiritual questions by the end of the book. Sagan, who is often painted as an Atheist by persons of faith is in fact more of an agnostic and that shines through in Contact.
Book Club of One Grade: A. A real solid A, i recommend this book without reservations, just know going into it that it doesn’t have the “action-movie” pacing of many modern Sci-Fi works.
The first time i read this book i was a sophomore in high school. It was the recommendation of a close friend of mine, who had it recommended to him by his father. i only mention this because his dad was one of the most interesting people i have ever known. He could cook like a chef, had an amazing library, told us the best dirty jokes, and had a scrap book filled with advertisements and articles with humorous misprints he’d accumulated and cataloged over the years. My favorite being a very old newspaper ad for a brassiere that should have read, “for a great Fit,” but instead read, “For a great Tit!” Needless to say, any book that this man recommended to our young and malleable minds was consumed post haste!
So, it was with a great amount of nostalgia that i picked up the book again. i remembered it being a well written work of science fiction, with a solid story-line, and an interesting take on a new alien race. Digging into the book i found that my nostalgic memory… was totally spot on! Which is a rare thing to happen in one’s life. Normally that thing we remember fondly isn’t nearly as good as we think it is. i recall sitting in an ER waiting room (i had driven an injured friend there) and the first Predator movie came on. A young rippling Arnold commanded a crack team of commandos, explosions, grenades, yelling, CHAIN-MACHINE-GUN!!!!!! i waited with anticipation for my first glimpse at the predator, remembering that magic moment when i was just a nerdy youth. i could not brace myself for the special effects disappointment i faced. The memory my brain had woven of that cloaked predator running through the jungle made the actual footage just horrible by comparison…. But Mote In God’s Eye was not a cloaked predator event in my life.
A few things stand out about this book for me, 3 actually:
The plot is very well written, the characters aren’t pools of depth, but most do have clear personalities. The overarching story is really really good. It’s got so much to say about it: There’s discovery, and science, and politics, and aliens that are really alien.
Those alien aliens: Niven & Pournelle really built an alien race that is unlike humans. i’m a huge Star-Trek fan but my one gripe with the world of Trek is that everyone is just a human with a rubber thing on their head. Moties are NOT human, they have 3 arms, and a caste system, and they think differently. It’s nice that the aliens just aren’t re-skinned humans.
The book was published in 1974, and as i’ve mentioned in reviewing other reads, i think reading Sci-Fi written in a different era shows us things about the era it was written in. Conventions on marriage and sexual relations resound with early 1970’s Americana thought processes.
i’m really glad that this book made NPR’s top 100 sci-fi/fantasy books of all time. This project meant that i picked up a book that i loved as an adolescent and i love it still today.
Book Club of One Grade: A. Mote gets a solid A from me. Pacing is brisk, story is good, aliens are amazing. If you love science fiction take the time to read this gem.
i’d like to devote this Book Club of One, NPRs top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books review to John Philpot, the man who suggested this book to his son, and then his son suggested it to me. Your sense of humor, your intelligence, and the fact that you always made time to chat with us when we were 14 year old knot-heads had some lasting impact on my life! i hope that you’re somewhere in the ether telling somebody a really good risque joke right now!
Just wrapped up Strange and Norell, which is the abbreviation of the title i’m going with. It’s a long title, and a very long book. It’s pretty well written and if you wish there was more magic in the works of Jane Austin you’ll likely love this one (LOTS of people do). But back to my point: It’s a very long book and to me it felt like a very long book.
i’ve expressed my struggles with long works of fiction in the past (though there have been a few long books i’ve read during this project that were amazing- Sanderson’s The Way of Kings for example) so it’s no surprise that i struggled more than a little to power through this book.
Other than the length my real complaint is that it feels like it always takes the longest way to get somewhere. The spark-notes on this book are probably very amazing and compelling!
Here’s what i really liked about it: flawed characters (i’m a sucker for a flawed protagonist)! More than that though, Clarke’s treatment of magic in her alternate world. Magic in her England is VERY VERY powerful, it’s also pretty dang weird and mysterious. i really like the unpredictable nature of the arcane that she built in her world.
The main characters were moderately interesting (Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norris) but my favorite were John Childermass and the odd Vinculus. i was glad when near the end of the book they got more of the spotlight shone upon them.
Book Club of One Grade: C-. pretty well written, but soooooo loooooong…. If you’re into period work you may love it (i’m also pretty fond of Napoleonic era stuff- due to my deep love of the Aubrey/Maturin series, but even the time-setting didn’t save it for me). It’s not a bad piece of fiction by any measure but it’s a book i don’t forsee myself ever revisiting.
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 tale of a post-WWII nurse who finds herself 200+ years back in time! Scottish highland shenanigans and political intrigue abound! Oh… and it’s a romance novel…
It’s my first dip into a real “romance novel”. Granted, i’ve read lots of books where romantic interests were front and center, even some books that if made into a movie would certainly fall into the category of “Chick-Flick” (spoiler: i LOVE a good chick flick! haha). “Real” romance novels use a lot of words like “Slippery”, and “Swollen”, and “Thrust”… There’s also the phrase, “He sheathed himself all the way to the base…” (that’s in there… double entendre intended)
Pardon me while i fan myself off! This is sexy stuff!
Also… it was super distracting for me. i’m all for healthy sexuality, heck i really enjoy healthy sexuality! But the constant jumps to sexy-time with steamy (granted creative) descriptors was just too much for me. Let me explain by not talking about The Sex: Epic battles are AMAZING, but if a novel spends too much time describing every sword-stroke and wound inflicted in flowery and creative language it eventually (by which i mean quickly) becomes a distraction to the story-line.
Outlander was pretty well written overall (even the gratuitous sexual encounters were written with some real skill). i really wanted to like Outlander. Characters with complex personal and political motivations. Strong(ish) female lead. Scotsmen!!! But alas it still never managed to grab me. Jamie felt like a perfect hero up until the end of the book. Claire was an engaging heroine, complex in her actions and reactions, but close to the end of the book she pulls a stint as a seer-level insightful immersive psychologist… that really killed it for me. There were hints at some cool fantasy elements that never really seemed to develop: a scene with a witch where something engaged with the lead character and a cameo by Nessie, but neither went anywhere and could have been removed without affecting the plot…
Outlander was also plagued by a villain with thin motivations. There was nothing likable about Captain Randall… An enemy with nothing likable is just not very engaging to me (even Satan himself knows how to party!).
After reading the first book i think i’m done with the series. If you want to read something that throbs, thrusts and swells but don’t want to check your brain at the door you can’t go wrong with Outlander… But if you’re looking for time travel fantasy that features a strong female lead go with Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.
Book Club of One grade: C-, see above if you’re wondering if you should read this. Written with skill but not my cup of steamy, sweaty, throbbing tea.
My year of reading in 2017 was (like most of my goals for 2018) a tad lack-luster… Normally i read 50+ books in a calendar year. 2017 i consumed a grand total of 32 books… i did spend quite a bit of reading time consuming RPG related materials, which i didn’t really add to my consumption totals.
Pity-party behind us, let’s look at my top 5 reads in 2017 (in no particular order, except for my #1 pick)
Small Gods -Terry Pratchett
Wasn’t a huge Pratchett fan before reading this gem. If you want to know more about Small Gods you can see my Book Club of One review here: Small Gods: Book Club of One Review
A History of the World in Six Glasses – Tom Standage
A walk through human civilization breaking it all down in eras of imbibement! Chock full of great information. It is a little sad that our era is best described as the Coka Cola era… Other eras being marked by beer, or wine, or whiskey…
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
i read The Handmaid’s Tale way back when i was in High School and it was a jarring powerful book that stuck with me! My re-read was possibly even more jarring! So well written, a powerful message, and possibly even more timely now than when i first read it.
Frankenstein -Mary Shelley
So, i’d never read this rock solid classic until this year. What a book! Nothing at all like the portrayals of Frankenstein’s monster that Hollywood has given us for decades now. Read this classic gem!
My #1 pick for 2017: The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben
i can’t think of any book that i’ve read recently that has challenged the way i view things more than The Hidden Life of Trees. Skillfully written, engaging, and packed with thought-provoking ideas. Read this book and never look at a tree the same again!
Well, there you go. My favorite reads from 2017 just in case you’re looking for something to feed your head, and your mind, and your brain (the holy triumvirate given to us by the great musician and philosopher Dewey Finn) maybe one of these will fit the bill!