Nov 26, 2012

REAMDE, by Neal Stephenson

The other Stephenson book this reminds me most of is "Cryptonomicon," which wasn't my favorite Stephenson read. I have a similar reaction to "REAMDE." It still has a good, healthy dose of the Stephenson humor I love so much, and the twists and turns of the plot keep you guessing, excited, and engaged. But it lacks the otherworldly quality of books like "Anathem" and the System of the World trilogy. This isn't sci fi, or historical, or even mildly fantastical: it's just fiction. Good fiction, but just plain old fiction.

I enjoyed reading it, though it took a couple hundred pages to get into; luckily, it's a massive 1042 pages in paperback. The writing is generally great, though I noticed a bit more description than was ever really necessary. In that respect, it reminded me almost of the Game of Thrones books, and Martin's tendency to over-describe. The characters are fantastic, though, and much of the book's merit rests on wanting to see what happens to them. It's a crazy, convoluted storyline, and I'm mightily impressed that Stephenson not only thought it up, but took it on. It just wish it had that little extra Stephenson oomph that makes his sci fi work so enthralling.

Nov 15, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Knowing Bradbury only from "Fahrenheit 451," I was very surprised by this lyrical tale. Set in an indeterminate time (which feels like the '40s or '50s), this novel of love and death and youth and age takes place around the central focus of a traveling carnival, and two young boys named Jim and Will. The plot is not all that important, because the book reads like prose poetry. For example: "The train skimmed on softly, slithering, black pennants fluttering, black confetti lost on its own sick-sweet candy wind, down the hill, with the boys pursuing, the air so cold they ate ice cream with every breath." The entire book is like that, which makes is rather slow-going. Plot is obscured in language, rather than revealed by it. Even though it could be classified as horror and as such, has a properly climactic ending, its clear that the point isn't what happens at the end, but how we get there. Personally, I prefer a bit more balance between language and plot, so this book was difficult for me. I'm glad I read it, though, for it's clear that Bradbury is one of those people with the incomparable, magical gift of manipulating language, folding it into exactly what he wants.

Nov 11, 2012

A Dance with Dragons, by George R. R. Martin

The fifth book of Martin's epic Song of Fire and Ice series exists (mostly) concurrently with the fourth, with the last two or three hundred pages resuming the chronology where the fourth had left off. Having read five of these books now, I am starting to grow a tad bit weary of Martin's most used writing techniques. There are two especially that have become more obvious as I read on. The first is his habit of starting a chapter in the present, then having the protagonist think back to the past as a means of explaining what has happened in the intervening time since we last walked with him or her. It's a clever device, but becomes rather transparent after one has read five thousand pages filled with it. The other aspect that has begun to bother me is the dialogue. Generally, it's very well done, but every once in a while a character will speak words that are much more Martin's than the character's. Even in this fantasy world, where old ghosts and legends are still strong, people just don't talk like writers write. At times it becomes a bit too flowery and poetic, and it thrusts the reader out of the story.

Other than those two complaints - for which I am glad I will have to wait a while yet for the next installment, so I can wash their taste out of my mouth - this is still a fascinating tale, filled with interesting, personable characters, and generally written very well. I can only hope that Martin doesn't take too long writing the sixth book, so that I don't have to go back and read the fifth all over again so I can remember the complexities of his world.