Archive for May, 2011

Keeping on track

Monday, May 30th, 2011

I’ve been a bit lacking on keeping this blog up to date lately. Not that I haven’t been reading, but it has partially been non-fiction, which I usually don’t incorporate for this blog, except for certain classic or old material. I did manage to expand my collection a bit more with two purchases: Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro, of which has been made a movie, which I haven’t seen, but I wanted to try the book first as the concept interested me, and The Fortress In The Eye Of Time (1995) by C.J. Cherryh. I’ve seen books by Cherryh in second hand book stores for quite time, but they were mainly Science Fiction of a type that did not draw my interest. This book however is Fantasy and did make me decide to pick it up to see if I like it. It’s the first book of a series, so hopefully it will make me want to read more.

In the meanwhile I’ve picked up The Island Of The Day Before (1994) by Umberto Eco. I already mentioned it in a recent post, but it hasn’t caught on to me that much yet, so I’m slowly but steadily progressing. Eco’s works are not always that easy to get into but usually you do catch on.

Peter F. Hamilton – The Evolutionary Void

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Impressive and mature are the first words I have for the Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton after having completed the third novel The Evolutionary Void (2010). The first novels I read by him were those of the Night’s Dawn Trilogy. It showed potential, but the story contained weaknesses which grew worse as it progressed. It caused me to put Hamilton aside for a while. At the end of last year I decided to give him a try again and I was happy that his potential hadn’t weakened. I picked up the Commonwealth Saga (see my reviews of those novels), which showed considerable growth and a far more steady and solid story. There were still some weaknesses, but those could be considered minor. What Hamilton certainly showed was that he was able to tell an engaging and very accessible epic space opera story with sufficient complexity but still an enough straightforward story to keep the reader in line.

With his Void Trilogy Hamilton has grown even more. His style remains the same but his skills have become stronger. In the Commonwealth Saga the story depended more on violent action and dramatic events with an occasional info-dumping. With the Void Trilogy he has found more maturity. Although the aforementioned elements are still there, except for the info-dumping, it is of a lesser degree. The events are packed more tighter and the dramatic trigger is not required to give the story its emotional value. Like his previous works the story touches on several themes that drive the story. In The Evolutionary Void they become clearer without being forced upon the reader.

At the end of book two, The Temporal Void, I had no idea how the story would progress. It certainly was not predictable. The Evolutionary Void starts with a bang. The first 50 to 100 pages are impressively powerful with some early surprises. One will immediately be captivated and get pulled into the story again. Hamilton then returns to his normal pace but avoids scenes to be drawn out and keeps them tight and interesting. We live with each character, how different they may be, although there is not much character development. Of course this is not a coming of age story, most characters have lived a long time already and have already matured. It is the events and their actions that drive the story. It is with some regret that you reach the end, which happens a bit more suddenly and faster than expected. Hamilton does not let down but does not rise above himself either.

Although Hamilton provides many new ideas, overall his concepts have been explored already in different or similar directions. This is of course caused by the difficulty of creating something truly original in the way the future might evolve. I don’t read a lot of science fiction but I do have noticed that certain basic concepts are the same. I don’t mind that. Science fiction is a specific genre and the only way to distinguish oneself is to write a very good story, because that is what is sometimes problematic in science fiction.

With the Void Trilogy Hamilton has created a very strong and solid story which is epic in nature, as we explore strange places, meet different species and future society is complex but structured and simplified sufficiently for the reader to keep track. He explores some interesting new ideas within a familiar framework. This makes his SF very accessible for readers of varying experience and needs. These are not novels that will gain awards for ingenuity or breaking boundaries, but will be much loved by fans for telling a compelling story which does not seem so far away or alien. Highly recommended.

Free purchases

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

I made one of my central categories for posts Purchases, but how do I categorize books I get for free? Well, I guess I will need to call those ‘free purchases’. One of those occasions when you can pick up free books is when family is moving and cleaning the old house. I had no idea if I would find anything to my liking but I went home with four books.

The first is well-known and the only English one, David Copperfield (1850) by Charles Dickens. Now I have to admit I haven’t read anything by Dickens yet as his works didn’t get into my field of interest yet. If I enjoy it I might be getting more books by Dickens.

The other three books are of Dutch origin and all three are considered to be old classics of Dutch literature. Either way, none of the books I picked were written less than 100 years ago. The first is called Camera Obscura (1851) by Hildebrand. In the back of my mind I have the feeling I read the book already during high school, but I have completely forgotten it. It was the only famous work he wrote.

The same can be said about the second book, Max Havelaar (1860) by Multatuli. The author is considered to be one of the greatest in Dutch literature but only this book has survived time as it expresses criticism towards Dutch colonialism in Indonesia where he lived for many years. I am not familiar with other books of that period to do so.

The third book also has an Indonesian connection as the author Louis Couperus spent most of his youth there. The book Of Old People, The Things That Pass (1906) is one of the most famous of his works. Couperus is certainly considered to be of similar stature as Multatuli, but more of novels have remained popular. I am currently reading one of his first works, Eline Vere.

No light or easy books among the ones I picked, but its not bad to improve the overall quality of my collection once in a while.

Alexandre Dumas – Twenty Years After

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

The great success of The Three Musketeers allowed Alexandre Dumas to continue his historical story of seventeenth century France with Twenty Years After (1845). As the title depicts, it takes place approximately twenty years after the events of the first story. The four main characters have taken different paths in life and as one can expect, they join together once again, although Dumas doesn’t make this happen as easy as one might think. With this hidden struggle Dumas illuminates the famous “One for all, All for one” phrase to show that the quartet together is something greater than apart. They complement each other and compensate the different weaknesses.

There are a number of differences between the two books. One is that Dumas delves deeper into the four main characters to give them more depth, in strength and weakness. This does not mean Dumas did not do so in the first book, but the story was more episodic, requiring more time to be spent on the course of events than of a greater characterization. This leads me to the second difference. Twenty Years After is a far more solid story compared to The Three Musketeers which episodes varied in style and quality. This variation is not there in Twenty Years After and this is an improvement. The downside is that some of the episodes of the first book were truly great, while Twenty Years After lacks such peaks.

The story itself follows two historical events in France and England. While the four main characters are woven nicely into the French events they are very much constrained by the English events as Dumas cannot let them play a role that would conflict with history. This diminishes their role although Dumas does his best to give it a dramatic take.
What is very much different is that the characters mainly depend on wit instead of arms. While The Three Musketeers contained many fights, there are relatively few to be found in the sequel. This does not just change the atmosphere of the story but also shows that after twenty years the four characters have changed and grown wiser. They are not crazy daredevils anymore, although their daring has not diminished.

The main weakness of the book is the first quarter. Dumas takes his time to set up the situation of the story and not much exciting happens. This gradually improves until Dumas is done setting the stage. Then the story starts off and the reader is quickly back in the atmosphere and pace of The Three Musketeers.

Twenty Years After is a good sequel to The Three Musketeers. It has certain improvements which also causes some weaknesses, but these are minor. We get a greater feel for the four famous characters which enriches their iconic status but does not change it. Overall the novel is not as good as the first, but the difference is small, mainly caused by much fewer heights. Anyone who enjoyed The Three Musketeers will certainly read this volume as well.

Queen’s Day bargains

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

The 30th of April is in the Netherlands a national holiday in which people are allowed to take part in a free-market where they can sell all their “junk”. I make use of the event to browse around all that junk to look for some cheap books, as a fair number of items for sale are second hand books. I usually manage to pick up a few and this year that was also the case with two fiction and one non-fiction book. I don’t mention my non-fiction purchases here as they are usually bought for my own interests and I prefer to focus on fiction books as non-fiction usually tries to inform, not to entertain.

The two fiction books are Insomnia (1994) by Stephen King and The Island Of The Day Before (1994) by Umberto Eco. In general I don’t like horror much, but the distinction is not always that clear. I picked up Amnesia because it is strongly related to the Dark Tower cycle, which is the case for other books he wrote during the 90′s. I have read several other books by Umberto Eco, his Foucault’s Pendulum being one of my all-time favorites. Although his books are very erudite, the stories are not always that strong. I had somewhat forgotten about The Island Of The Day Before so when I saw it at the free-market in good quality I decided to pick it up as I hadn’t read it yet.