Archive for December, 2010

Kim Stanley Robinson – Blue Mars

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

It has taken some times, but I have finally finished Blue Mars (1996), the final volume of the Mars-Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. I had read the first two books quite some years ago, but for some weird reason the third book never got translated so I picked up the English version. As the book proved to be not an easy or very entertaining read I put it on my travellist: books I use for long traveling. Even so, I did not progress very fast, partially because I don’t always read while traveling and I did not travel that much the past half year.

In my introduction I already stated two negative points about the book. I did remember enjoying the first two books so before I got to writing this review I picked up the first book again and read a bit so I would be able to compare it better.

The first thing I mentioned was the easiness of the book. The Mars-Trilogy has gained a lot of critical acclaim and this is mainly because of the well envisioned and scientific description of the colonization and terraformation of Mars. The science and technical writing in the third book is quite more extensive than before. Such parts are quite hard for any reader not into the topic. One might learn something from it, but the problem remains that it is not very accessible. During the book Robinson covers a range of topics related to the colonization and the terraformation but he does not manage to present it within a frame of story that keeps the attention of the reader. I could best call it info-dumping, which is always a nasty thing. The narrative is often descriptive while info-dumping is easier to swallow in a dialogue.

The first two books also had descriptive narratives but there was still plenty of dialogue and character interaction. The third book lacks this a lot. It is a long book and dialogue makes things much more livelier.

This brings me also to the point of entertainment. The book covers a long period of time in which mostly minor things happen. The beginning starts exciting, but it quickly swamps down in a description of mostly peaceful solutions to problems and developments. In most of the book hardly anything really exciting happens. Some parts are interesting but mostly because we follow certain characters and the life they develop. Even these are not very exciting but the more personal view and more detailed developments are a nicer read.

Blue Mars advocates a peaceful and diplomatic continuation of events where humanity reaches a new stage in its evolution. In a away it reminds me of The Foundation by Isaac Asimov, which stories also lack real conflict and have peaceful resolutions, but where human interactions still formed the core. However, this part is lacking in Blue Mars. Most characters remain rather dull and the few that are not we don’t really get to, don’t stick with or just don’t do much that really has effect.

Blue Mars mainly brings conclusion to the events of the earlier books, but despite the beginning never sets off. One will read it to find out how it will all end up, but there is little of the entertainment of the previous books. I will not particularly recommend it. In its way it’s a good book, but the approach is far too scientific and unpersonal to make an impact.

Glen Cook – Shadows Linger

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Shadows Linger (1984) is the second book by Glen Cook about the Black Company. The first three books, combined in the omnibus edition The Chronicles Of The Black Company that I have, form a trilogy as events and characters in these books are related to each other.

In Shadows Linger years have passed since the epic events of the the first book. While The Black Company knew an impressive pace to combine the whole story, Cook now tells a simpler and more straightforward tale. He gives the plot more depth by following another narrative besides the one we know from the first book. We see things from a different point of view but Cook also provides the preparation and setting for when the two the story lines will come together. The slower pace is by no means weakening the story. The first book was a rush, but now we have time to explore and give the characters opportunity to build. Talking about characters, the lack of the rush allowed me to notice how little Cook describes most of his characters. For example, I still have no idea what the narrator himself looks like. Cook leaves it to the reader to imagine them themselves. I kind of like that.

Cook also is very capable of avoiding the typical fantasy cliches while his twists come far more naturally than others authors who use twists as a tool to surprise the reader. The twists in the story that Cook presents are always logical. In a development there are many forks to choose from. He simply picks one that you would not have expected. You would have thought it possible, but most writers would pick the choice which would be the most tough one, the one with the biggest conflict. As such, the story goes from conflict to conflict, it all happening together being a large chain of coincidences. Cook does it differently and uses the other fork to provide new twists of their own.

Are there weaknesses? It is hard to say. One thing is that Cook does not really explains. He makes things up for the plot, but the how or why sometimes remains a mystery. Of course it told from a first person point of view, so we don’t get to know more than the narrator, although he gets to know far more than others would have.

Character development, as explained in my review of the first book, plays a minor role for Cook. The story is most important and that parts is well done. With a book of only 200 pages he keeps putting in a lot of story where many authors these days need double or triple. Of course these are different times, so one could also say they are allowed to now.

Shadows Linger in itself forms a story of its own and although having read the first book would come in handy one would be able to read and enjoy the book separately. The book is not as powerful as the first one, but for a so-called middle book it is a great read. Another recommendation.

Glen Cook – The Black Company

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Getting a recommendation that turns out great is always a nice thing. For me this was the case with The Black Company (1984) by Glen Cook. I hadn’t read more than ten pages before style, prose and setting reminded me a lot of Steven Erikson: a band of soldiers, their engagements and daily bantering, the distinct and original characters, and of course a compact story development with a fairly quick pace. Just with those elements I can guarantee that one who likes Erikson will like Cook just as well.

There are some distinct differences. The Black Company is told from a first person point-of-view and we stick to that. Because of that, we miss out on some events, but the main characters manages to get into most of what is important. As the narrator is also a physician, he is often not at the front of battle so he doesn’t go into much detail there. It does allow the story to move with incredible speed. The novel is just over 200 pages, but a whole epic story is told and completed while you don’t have the feeling it is rushed. This is because Cook moves from scene to scene where the pace is right, but once it is done he wastes no time until the next event. Few lines are spent on the large amount of travelling, not more than necessary. This is also a difference from Erikson, where journeys and quests are the backbone of his stories.

The story is gritty and sufficiently complex, while names remain generic or nicknames, giving it a similar Erikson feel but just this different and a bit more epic. Cook’s characterization is excellent. With few words he sets up the different characters and gives the environment a genuine feel. For a novel from the 80′s it partially feels like a novel from the past decade while still having reminiscences from classic fantasy from the 60′s and 70′s (as he put it all together in 200 pages). One could say he was ahead of his time or that he inspired a number of popular recent fantasy authors.

The world is not described in much detail, just what is enough. This is a grey world where good and evil are hard to distinguish. The reader has to judge for himself.

Like Erikson, this is a story that focusses on the story itself and using a stabile strong cast of characters. Character development plays a minor role because most of the soldiers in the story all have a past already and aren’t that young anymore. Their characters are fleshed out. They have seen and lived through plenty of bad stuff, so change will not come easily. This is not that kind of story that requires it.

The Black Company has my full recommendation. An excellent and entertaining story which mopes up the typical fantasy tropes and never lets down. I’m happy the novel is part of a omnibus, so I have two more novels to enjoy until the next omnibi that I’ve ordered have arrived.

Valery Leith – The Way Of The Rose

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

It is not often that book two of a trilogy contains the core of a story and the peak of development. It is to this conclusion I came after reading The Way Of The Rose (2001), the final book of the Everien Trilogy by Valery Leith. The Way Of The Rose is certainly not bad or something like that, but it is a book of closure and concepts.

If you have read the second book by now I can disclose that the main story of the book is about time. At the end of The Riddled Night the two main events of the story came to their conclusion. The Way Of The Rose is mostly about its aftermath and its effects on Everien. The book picks up about immediately after the events of The Riddled Night which means a lot of characters are trying to get back to where they wanted to be while some other events evolve around the same time. About two-thirds of the book is about these unfolding events which means that most of the story, unlike the previous two, move much slower with less actually happening. This fact is hardly noticed because there are still many characters and thus storylines we are following. A bit too much actually, although they do play their part in the bigger story. Some of those stories are still quite eventful and provide the necessary variation. Some of the other storylines are so regular that if you had cut them out and put them together basically followed a straightforward pattern of closure, to simply wrap things up.

That it is not really closure in the real sense is because Leith is putting a large number of concepts within these closure stories. With concepts I mean that she puts in a lot of different ideas and unexpected twists within these relatively short storylines. The reader will be set on the wrong footing several times just because Leith kept up certain patterns but drops them suddenly now. This forms a contrast with the previous books but does make it stand out on its own. There are two minor points about this change. The first is that the concepts remain fairly short and somewhat undeveloped. It happens and can be over with quite fast. There would have been space to give it more attention, although that would have lengthened the book a lot. Now it has remained in a compact story. So it’s a choice you can make. The thing with the many concepts is that they are more vulnerable to flaws. I noted some small errors that were apparently missed. It’s a thing that can happen when the complexity is great and there are so many ideas. I alread noted in my review of book two that I had the idea I missed some things, so these could have been small errors as well.

Because of the many storylines and focus on concepts, the character development is much less than the previous books. Getting the story to a conclusion through all the complexities might have been requesting more concentration.

Although I enjoyed reading the story unfolding in original ways it lacked the urgency and strong ending of book two. The ending of the trilogy felt are simple than what I had come to expect from Leith based on the interesting concepts and twists. Moreover, this is the first time I had the feeling that the story had been structured in the wrong way. Of course, when you develop a story you set up a certain logical sequence of events, but here I had the idea that in this form it lacked somewhat to be able to provide a strong ending. Now book two had that much better. It remains a bit debatable how the story could have been set up differently. It is just a feeling I have and to really discuss it I need someone to have read it as well.

This trilogy is a great read for any fantasy fan who likes complexity and mysteries, with none of the mainstream tripes. An original story that stands on its own and should have been noted more. It evaded my attention and should have been given a reprint again.

Trying a recommendation

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Usually I look for new books on my own, checking review sites, bookstores and webshops, as I’m a far more avid reader than most of my friends. As such I don’t get much recommendations from them and if I do it’s not always a guarantee I will decide to try it out. A short while ago I got a tip from a friend to try Glen Cook. He wrote a series of fantasy novels which started some 25 years ago. I don’t mind older works as there is often something refreshing or new in them compared the much more mainstream days of the past decade that the fantasy genre has become. At the webshop there were only omnibus edition available, so I got the first one, which is titled Chronicles of the Black Company (2007). It contains The Black Company (1984), Shadows Linger (1984) and The White Rose (1985). I’ve put the book on my next-to-read list, so I will probably start on it the coming week.

An early christmas gift

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

At my company they gave a christmas gift via an online giftstore on which you can spend a number of points on events, goods or charity. Among goods there is also an option to choose books. It is ideal to fill in some leftover (or all) points because it’s not easy to use up all the points exactly. The books option leads to a subsite which is somewhat like an online bookstore.  This year I had some points unspent as there wasn’t much I needed from the goods (the “events” are not that noteworthy) so I decided to see if I could find something among the books. There was some interesting stuff and as it was a gift I could allow myself to try something new.

In the end I decided not to try something really new. I picked up The Dreaming Void (2007) by Peter F. Hamilton, the first book of the Void trilogy. I had already read his Night’s Dawn trilogy. Although it had been a decent read it didn’t make me want to read more by Hamilton soon, but his name would remain in the back of my head in case I changed my mind.

Oddly enough the subsite appeared to me more independent dan the main site. Last year I had to wait 2-3 weeks for my gifts to arrive, so I expected the same this year, but the book I ordered came separately, only a few days after I ordered it. I don’t know when the other goods will arrive, but it’s always nice to get an early christmas gift.

Valery Leith – The Riddled Night

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

It is always nice to discover an unknown writer (at least to me and gone unnoticed over the years that I’ve been reading) and to enjoy the book very much. This is the case for the Everien-Trilogy by Valery Leith. I already gave a positive review for the first book, but the second book, The Riddled Night (2000), I liked even more.
The first book, The Company of Glass, provided us with a number of mysteries and several main characters who went through a number of ordeals. In The Riddled Night some of the mysteries are resolved for the main part while some new ones are added.

Besides the main characters the viewpoints of a number of side characters are followed, of which some from the previous books now remain on the background and do not play an active role anymore. To me this was somewhat unusual as most authors keep the view points they made already have used. The number of viewpoints also increased to show more sides in the events of the story. The downside of this choice was that the pace of the story slowed down while you would not see some characters for quite a while. Even so, events happen (relatively) quickly and thus prevent the slower pace to be a bit more boring.

Even with so many viewpoints there was still plenty of space for character development, quite more than in the first book. This surely made the book stronger.

The title of the book is also aptedly named, as the mysteries that are unfolding in the book become more complex. I actually had some trouble keeping it all together. I had the idea I missed some things that were mentioned later. This was not bothersome, but it did cast some doubt on possibly having missed parts. Nevertheless the mysteries are well crafted and I enjoyed discovering how they expanded and unfolded. If I truly missed something then I hope to find out when I reread the series. I already know that in a number of years I will pick it up again.

The Everien-series has drifted far from the mainstream. Although it has taken up a number of typical fantasy tropes (I won’t name them as that would be spoiling and they are actually unexpected at the beginning of the book) it deals with them in an original way. This second book is quite better than the first and does not feel like a typical middle book. It stands on it’s own with a certain opening and closure that will not feel like having had to read much before. I am very interested in the final book. This one is very much recommended.

Chris Bunch – The Warrior King

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

The fact that I’m posting the review of The Warrior King (1999), the third book of The Seer King Trilogy, by Chris Bunch, so soon after my review of book two is simple: I finished it much faster than the previous one, and that one I already read faster than the first book. When I finish a book faster there are usually two reasons: I have more free time or I enjoy the book much more. I my review of the second book I already stated that I enjoyed it more than the second one, so obviously I’ve enjoyed book three even more.

The next question then is why? The first two books were a recollection of events told by the main character. In book three, the events have caught up and we are reading it almost real-time. There is more focus and most of all, the main characters is most of the time not bothered by the elements that didn’t really fit well. We now really follow his story. With this the first person narrative loses it downsides and the story becomes more entertaining.

Still, it is quite obvious where the story will take us but the journey is what has to make it interesting. The story remains rather straightforward. There are no multiple or hidden layers. This is quite mainstream fantasy considering it tells its own story without borrowing from commong mainstream tropes. It is that which makes it a more refreshing read. Even if the story elements are nothing peculiar it is an original world with its own setup and characters. It is not a complex or detailed world, but sufficient enough to enjoy it.

This third book also contains a bit more character development than the previous books. It also helps that we are now a bit more accustomed to the side characters and even if it takes a while, they slowly get more depth. It still remains a weakness that time in the book moves fast, so there is not enough time to spend on thorough scene building. Overall the characters remain fairly basic, but the bit extra does serve well.

The Warrior King is clearly the best book of the trilogy and that is a good thing, because it makes my final review end in a positive way. My general opinion however remains the same. This is a very nice read when you want to spend some time on an easy fantasy story.