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.
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 you needed to fortify your gates against an incoming horde and all you had were copies of this book… you’d be just fine! The Way of Kings is a CHUNK! Nearly as thick as it is wide. It’s like cracking open a great tome.
Often i find very lengthy books to be burdensome. (yet i’ll gladly gobble up a trilogy) They’re most often packed with fluff and flowery meaningless descriptors that pump that page count up. The Way of Kings is a hefty read, but it suffers from none of these issues.
What makes Sanderson’s novel different from so many other long fantasy novels? It’s long for a good reason: The pool that Sanderson has created for our imaginations to swim in is deep… i mean deeeeeep deeeeeeep. If it was a pool it’s not an olympic diving pool it’s more like the Deep Joy Y-40 (google it, totally worth the shallow dive into Wikipedia). He uses this depth to weave a dense story for us.
Also, unlike other long novels, the pacing manages to stay brisk. Rarely if ever feeling like it lags. He jumps between a few stories both of wich subtly build upon one another, not so much in interaction but in the knowledge of the world we the reader are gaining.
The world is rich and alien while still being understandable. Massive storms sweep across the land sporadically and all life on the world has adapted to survive them (that’s why vegetation withdraws into the earth, or protective shells, or lays down flat, etc etc etc). There are “magic”* swords, “magic”* armor, a sort of instantaneous transubstantiative alchemy, giant beasts, intriguing huminoid races….. Other than that i don’t think i’ll give any spoilers here.
Book Club of One grade: A+. It’s long, it’s dense, Characters fit into archetypes but in ways that feel refreshing. If you’re on the hunt for a big ol’ fantasy book, give this one a go.
*”Magic” in this book doesn’t feel like magic… it’s mysterious and handled more like a lost science. This is the first in the series so i’m excited to one day further my journey into this world and see how that unfolds.
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?).
The Crystal Cave follows the development of Merlin from the Arthurian mythos before he was THE MERLIN we all have ingrained into our imaginations. It follows his growth from a child into a young man.
The story has some twists and turns along the way, with Merlin fleeing multiple times for his life, establishing himself a few times by the cleverness of his mind and wraps up with him manipulating Uthur into treachery that will ultimately lead to the birth of Arthur, an event that Merlin has foreseen.
The book was well written and the characters compelling. It’s interesting how Stewart weaves fantasy with history in this book.
Book Club of One score: B-. It’s a solid book, actually one of my most enjoyable “Arthur books” (The Once and Future King being my all-time favorite of the genre). i found out that it’s part of a series, a series that i could one day see myself returning to. i think overall i enjoyed Stewart’s writing more than the content of the book. Her writing has a nice tempo and is nuanced and interesting to me. If you love Arthurian stuff and want some “prequel” action this could be your best bet!
Old Man’s War is a seriously fun ride from start to finish.
It’s got some graphic violence, some thoughtful dialogue, heartfelt moments, irreverent moments, cool sci-fi tech, and low-fi likable characters.
The book follow the adventures of John Perry a 75 year old starting his career in the Colonial Defense Force as an infantryman. While set in the future humans haven’t achieved any extended longevity, so a 75 year old military recruit has the potential for some real entertainment value. What has the potential for even MORE entertainment value? A whole army of 75 year old military recruits! Ships and ships full of them!
Spoiler: they all get new, heavily modified and augmented, bodies. Scalazi does an interesting job digging into the what-ifs of 75 year old minds in super-human 20-something year old bodies. Perry’s brief moment with his old body (while in his new body) had me a lil’ misty!
While keeping a brisk pace that makes this book what i consider an “easy-read” Scalazi touches on themes like: Consciousness and identity, and the morality of war… you know the light fluffy stuff.
Book Club of One grade: A. Fun & Fast but with some meat on the bones here and there. Old Man’s War would make a great read to pack for a trip! If you want a the literary equivalent to a sci-fi Die Hard pick this book up! i liked Old Man’s War so much that when i found out it was a series i got genuinely excited! i fully plan to dip back into this world!
The Dispossessed is an engaging and intellectually stimulating trip into a Sci-Fi universe that’s well thought out and very interesting. The two main locations in the book are Urras a planet inhabited by humans who’s society very much so mirrors the society/societies found on Earth, and Anarres the moon of Urras. Anarres is a sort of Utopian society that is oft described as an anarchist utopia but to me it much more resembles an off-shoot of communism. There’s no money, everyone is provided housing and an allotment of food. There is an overarching body that gives people work assignments; these can be ignored but rarely are as there is some social pressure to accept them. Anarres is a society where everyone owns everything and nothing at the same time. Urras is a capitalist system that most of us are well acquainted with.
Shevek is the protagonist of the story, a physicist who’s theories hold the key to faster-than-light space travel. He’s committed to dispersing his theories to all societies simultaneously so none can use them to take advantage of other civilizations. He’s complex, imperfect, does some shady things, and some heroic things.
i like how Le Guinn uses the story to ask some questions that 40ish years after publication are still powerful: She looks at sexism in society; she questions both capitalism and (what i call) semi-communism; she probes at the basic nature of humans individually, collectively, and governmentally; and she leaves us thinking about how innovation is sometimes used as an aggressive tool politically.
Overall i’d give The Dispossessed a Book Club of One grade of C+: The concepts are great, the writing is solid, but for some reason i had to force myself to stay engaged with the book. It’s an intangible thing for me that i can’t put my finger on. Pick it up if you’re looking for a Sci-Fi read with some heft to the story that could leave you thinking about bigger things.