The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – A Book Review.

The Name of the wind is the first in a traditional fantasy trilogy called ‘The Kingkiller Chronicle’, it has been on my ‘to read’ pile for a while knowing I’ll love it but not quite ready for the commitment. It’s so intimidatingly large that I just couldn’t bring myself to start it; I have a habit of becoming very antisocial when reading fantasy books and it never seemed quite the right time. To give you some idea of its size, it is approximately 250,000 words long; for context the first book in David Eddings’ Belgariad series (The Pawn of Prophecy) has 104,000, and it’s a similar size to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The second one isn’t much smaller, I bought both the first two when I saw them at a charity shop after hearing good reviews of the series.

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I’m so relieved to find a new traditional fantasy series to lose myself in. If you are at all familiar with the genre then you will feel instantly at home. Horse and carts, bards and lutes, taverns and gods, it has all the pieces for a full fantasy world. I like urban fantasy well enough, J. K. Rowling, Patricia Briggs and Shanna Swendson, to name a few, have managed to bring the fantasy into our own worlds in I way I really enjoy, but often the genre has a angsty or sleek and sexy vibe to it which is very different from the homely, rustic feel of the old fashioned fantasy genre. The novel is suitable for most age groups, there’s no bad language (or so little I’ve forgotten it) no raunchy sex scenes, any violence is implied rather than explicit and the book doesn’t lose anything for it.

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A lot of the story is told as a story with very occasional, intermittent chapters of present time. Qvothe, the protagonist, is retelling his life story to Chronicler, a man who collects stories. There is clearly a plot to the current time events, but very little progress is made in that area, instead most of the action occurs is Qvothe’s recollections. The book is packed with events that keep the book moving along nicely, there are stories within the story which have their own set of characters and resolutions. The writing is beautifully done, and the characters are vivid and colourful. There are multiple, unofficial sections to the book that make convenient brake points and the chapters are thankfully small, as I said before the book is huge. There are times of humour and time of sadness; moments of cleverness and moments of foolishness; flashes of profound greatness and instances of weakness. Overall it is a great, long winding tale with highs and lows and no dull moments.

Despite its size, the book doesn’t really standalone well. There is no overarching plot to the book as a solo book. As I said there are many minor resolutions within the novel, but nothing that wraps the book up with any satisfaction, if fact quite the opposite, it leaves off on a bit of a cliff hanger, or more of a tease really. I’m not sure I like a book to end so openly however I can forgive it as I knew beforehand that it is part of a trilogy; a trilogy I shall most certainly continue to read. The slightly troublesome thing is that the third book is yet to be released, Rothfuss seems to be taking his time with it. However rumour has it that a Movie, TV series and videogame are in the works so at least I’ll be able to immerse myself in the world a bit more. (Kingkiller Chronicle movie news).

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Here’s a couple of excerpts from the book that show a little of the writing style and world created.

‘Dax set himself alight while attempting a spectacular bit of fire breathing and had to be doused. All he suffered was a bit of singed beard and a slightly bruised pride. He recovered quickly under Ben’s tender ministrations, a mug of mead, and a reminder that not everyone was cut out to have eyebrows.’

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‘”I’m giving you the opportunity to say something,” Kvothe said. “Something along the lines of, “That can’t be!”, or “There’s no such thing as dragons…””

Chronicler wiped the nib of his pen clean, “it’s not really my place to comment on the story.” he said placidly. “If you say you saw a dragon…” He shrugged.

Kvothe gave him a profoundly disappointed look. “This from the author of The Mating Habits of the Common Dracus? This from Devan Lochees, the great debunker?”

“This from Devan Lochees who agreed not to interrupt or change a single word of the story he is recording.” Chronicler lay his pen down and massaged his hand. “Because those were the only conditions under which he could get access to a story he very much desired.”

Kvothe gave him a level look. “Have you ever heard the expression white mutiny?”

“I have,” Chronicler said with a thin smile.

“I could say it, Reshi,” Bast said brightly, “I haven’t agreed to anything.”

Kvothe looked back and forth between them, then sighed. “There are few things as nauseating as pure obedience,” he said. “both of you would do well to remember that.”’

 

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – A Book Review

My intention of reading and reviewing a book a week has fallen by the wayside. I am still reading though in a less forced manner and am consequently enjoying it more. I have just finished reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood which was first published in 2003. This is the first in her MaddAddam series, a post apocalyptic series set after humanity has screwed up the world through using science to play God. Atwood herself describes the book as speculative fiction and adventure romance rather than sci-fi as all the science described already exists to a certain degree.

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I had heard of Margaret Atwood before, and always in a positive manner. I firmly believed she was a good writer even though I had never read any of her work, such is the effect of reviews. Having now read Oryx and Crake, I still believe this to be true, though that doesn’t necessarily mean I was completely satisfied by the novel.

The novel focuses on Jimmy, a.k.a. Snowman. You follow his life as he struggles to exist in this new destroyed world and learn of the cause of the current state through his musings on his past. Even the earliest point of Jimmy’s memory is set in our future, science has developed to the stage of creating new creatures, growing organs, and generally playing God. The elite are those that are scientifically intelligent, all other skills are no longer valued. Those who are of use in the fast evolving world of microbiology and genetic engineering live in little cocoons of apparent safety and normality called Compounds and Modules (I imagine it a bit like the Truman Show), while the unwashed masses live outside the walls, in the Pleeblands, where disease and crime run free.I would explain the plot but there isn’t really one as such, or if there is it’s a bit like Columbo, where your shown the ending at the start and then spend the rest of your time trying to figure out how you got there.

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I am still convince Margaret Atwood is a brilliant writer, however her book was not what I expected; true to my usual rule, I refused to find out anything about the book before reading and reviewing which leaves me quite vulnerable to this particular fate. The author throws you straight in to the middle of everything with little to know information, in much the same way you can learn a language through immersion I think Atwood tries to get you to understand her world through immersion also. Words and names like OrganInc and Pigoons, Wolvogs and Rakunks are thrown at you with no explanation, echoes of spoken words come from the past without a known speaker and rules without obvious reasons are stated; gradually as memories are shared and the story evolves most ideas come into focus and a clearer picture forms. Over all I think I quite liked the approach, it was hard at first but the more you read the more it makes sense. I imagine it is a book that will have even more to it reading a second time.

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Another unexpected side to this book was the language and some of the topics. I don’t know whether to call it coarse, crude, base or gritty, but it certainly isn’t family friendly. It rarely if ever seems to be thrown in pointlessly but over all it had a much coarser feel to it than I had imagined. Sex, porn, snuff, human trafficking and others are mentioned, not in a sexy, explicit sort of way, but in a ‘this is how far humanity has sunk’ kind of way. It’s all written in quite a blunt manner, never glorifying or reveling in any of it, simply as part of the narrative.

The main characters themselves are all very flawed and damaged, when you have gone through and apocalypse that is understandable, but even the early times, when they are children there are may characteristics and manners that are hard to find acceptable. Again I think that maybe Atwood commenting on the state of man at that point. Going back to Atwood’s description of the novel as ‘speculative fiction and adventure romance’, ‘speculative fiction’ is a good name for it. It is quite clearly a vivid picture of how Atwood can see the world getting lost in humanities self importance. ‘Adventure romance’ however I struggle to see. If there is any relationship that could be considered romantic then it is a deeply unhealthy one. The word adventure also seems miss-applied, adventure has such a positive spin to it, there is little if anything positive about the lives revealed in Oryx and Crake.

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So overall I would say that Oryx and Crake is well written. It is gripping, it is clever, it is well researched and developed. The world is fully created, the history well incorporated into the novel and the language is descriptive and emotive. As negatives I must say there seems very little plot, and the ending wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, however there are two other books so it may be redeemed yet. The fact that I fully intend to read the other two books may be all you need to know about this one. I will also hunt out the TV series that is being developed when that is available as well.

The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells – A Book Review.

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I am falling behind in my 1 book a week aim which is a shame. I seem to spend a lot of my days doing jigsaw puzzles, and then as I feel going outside once in a while is healthy, and interacting with real people is necessary, I seem to have used up all my anti-social time. It took far longer than it should have for me to come up with the idea of listening to audiobooks while puzzling. I thoroughly recommend it.

I have managed to read a few books lately though I haven’t posted any reviews in a while as I haven’t had much to say about them. However having recently finished listening to The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, and finding it very different to my expectations, I have decided to recommence the reviews. I have had the audiobook version of The Invisible Man for several years, but haven’t got around to listening to it; the avid readers among you will no doubt understand the nature of a ‘To Be Read’ pile, it works the same with audio books, I seem to gather them faster than I listen to them.

How Out of Control Is Your TBR Pile

The Invisible Man (1897) is one of the most famous sci-fi novels ever. It was written by H. G. wells and has innumerable films, TV series and comics based on it. Wells is also known for The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau which also have various media adaptations. Before listening to the book, this was pretty much all I knew. I had heard of the invisible man in the world of comics and superheroes and I vaguely remembered a film adaptation of The Time Machine that was a fun family friendly adventure. Consequently I was expecting something along those lines with this book; some of you will know that’s not what I got.

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I listened to a free audiobook version of The Invisible Man downloaded from Librivox (link here). The narrator (Alex Foster) was fine; I have no criticisms. I have experienced audiobooks that were hugely enhanced by a great reading, this wasn’t one of them, but on the other hand he certainly didn’t detract from the story, he was perfectly listenable, which isn’t always the case with the volunteer lead readings you find on Librivox.

I’m very well behaved when reading or watching sci-fi with respect to the science. I am willing to suspend logic and reality to an extent to allow the authors to create the new world, and in fact I enjoy the logic of the world they create and generally will allow it to stand without question. After all if science could actually do it, it would be reality not sci-fi. I reviewed Replay by Ken Grimwood and touched on The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North last year (link here). In Replay the science isn’t really attempted, and that’s OK, but I was highly impressed with the science element in The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August; I’ve yet to come across a better developed sci-fi world. In The Invisible Man Wells has also done a great job of explaining his scientific phenomena with a  reasonable explanation of how to make something invisible, in fact this was one of the most satisfying parts of the book from my point of view.

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Now to the story itself. As I alluded to earlier, The Inivisible Man is not a light fun adventure. It’s not even a slightly sinister or dark superhero book. It’s just dark and angry. The main character, the invisible man himself is called Griffin. When we are introduce to him he seems a rather harsh and grumpy however with my preconceptions I felt there would be reasonable justification for this later on. However as the book proceeds you are lead to like Griffin less and less. I clung on to the hope of a sort of redeemable anti-hero for a while but gave it up on that idea about half way through. Griffin is simply selfish, angry and brutish. You may think that is very well done by the author to build such a dislike about a character particularly when you are predisposed to like them, it must have taken very strong writing to create those emotions and I do agree to a certain extent. Griffin is a well developed character.

The main problem I had with the book is that non of the other characters in the book are particularly developed at all. There isn’t really anyone to like or root for. There is a tramp that is controlled by Griffin for a while. You would think you would feel some sort of support, or liking for the tramp but at most I felt a mild kind of pity. The tramp didn’t really have enough of a sense of character to really be noticed. Later Griffin holes up with an old acquaintance, Kemp, who when he realises Griffin’s brutality and unrelenting drive for complete domination, betrays Griffin to the Police. Griffin being angry at being betrayed and now hunted turns his anger on Kemp with the intent to kill. Even Kemp is hard to care about. I did support him in the sense that your enemy’s enemy is your friend, and Griffin was definitely an enemy by then, but there was very little emotion invoked on behalf of Kemp himself.

Overall I can’t say I liked the book, the writing style with a third person narrator I quite liked, the bits of science used to describe various phenomena were interesting, but without a likable, relate-able or redeemable character in sight it just felt like spending several hours in the company of and angry psychopath.

 

Time Loops, Replay by Ken Grimwood, and the Book Challenge!

I do love a bit of time travel!

So the reading challenge commenced last Sunday (I have decided my reading week will be Sunday to Saturday) and the first book I have chosen is Replay by Ken Grimwood. This was an award winning book published in 1986 which I have had on my Kobo for about a year but never got around to reading. I discovered it after I’d been trawling online for books related to time loops; this was a topic that caught my imagination after catching Groundhog Day on the TV. Continue reading