Apr 17, 2013

Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett

Another Pratchett book, thoroughly enjoyed. This is not often a laugh-out-loud read like some of his others have been, but that's mainly because the subject matter is rather more serious than usual. "Monstrous Regiment" deals with feminism, jingoism, misogyny, geopolitics, religion, war, and societal change. Heady stuff for a Pratchett book, and I think he does a very good job of it. The novel is still light-hearted and funny, with characteristic Pratchett wit, but with a bit more of a message behind it. Unfortunately, the occasional editing errors were present, as they often are with mass market Pratchett books. I do wish they'd show the man a little more respect by using a decent copywriter.

Apr 11, 2013

The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

I read this literary classic way back in middle school, and promptly forgot everything about it. I see why this is recommended for precocious younger readers, but I think it takes an adult mindset to understand what White is actually writing about. There's an awful lot of philosophizing in this book that surely went right over my head, even as a bookish seventh grader, though the humorous writing, the humanity of the characters, and the rollicking quests are classic young adult fodder. So it must be concluded that "The Once and Future King" is a complicated book, for complicated souls. It was daring, really, to write a book about King Arthur, renowned for jousts and chivalry and a generally violence-centric society (even if "he" did try to create a more civilized rule of law) and then so clearly turn it into a paean to - and plea for - pacifism. Arthur's thoughts are surely White's own: there is no excuse for war, no excuse for killing another. One wrongful death leads to another, and another, until the world is swimming in blood and there's no telling whether you have more blood on your own hands or your enemy on his.

The writing is quite different throughout the four sections of the book. It starts out quite humorously, then becomes more serious as the book continues. The inner sections are a bit difficult to plow through, while the last hundred pages or so are downright riveting. This will surely be a classic for a long time to come.

Apr 3, 2013

Neuromancer, by William Gibson (audiobook)

First, a note on audiobooks, this being my first foray into the field (I know, I'm a little behind the times). I have only two bones to pick with audiobooks: the first is that one naturally gets distracted in reading and often has to reread a sentence or paragraph a couple of times. The same thing happens with audiobooks, except it's so much more difficult to go back and "reread" a section you've missed. I therefore lost bits and pieces of the narrative, which is frustrating. My second problem is the way male readers voice female characters. I understand that they're trying to make them different so you can more easily follow the conversation, but the affected falsetto is too soft for female characters with hard personalities. Molly, in "Neuromancer," is a hardened fighter, but the reader's voice made her sound like a mewling lamb. Hardly fitting, I believe.

This is a seminal piece of science fiction, and has both affected and in some cases created our modern world. Written nearly 30 years ago, Gibson's impressive work instigated the phrases and concepts of cyberspace and cyberpunk, notions that still very much hold sway. This book is also the inspiration for The Matrix trilogy of movies, one of the best known cinematic works of the 2000s. Even just listening to it (I would like to go back some day and read it in the traditional paper format), one gets a sense of how huge an undertaking the imagining of this world was. Even more impressive is how well the book is written. It's so easy to get caught up in originality and grand ideas, thereby excusing an author for less-than-stellar writing - awarding them an A for effort, in a sense. But Gibson is a beautiful writer, too. His descriptions are easy to follow but lovely as well, and the emotions of the protagonist are laid out for the reader but not thrust upon him/her. I see why this has been such a popular book, even beyond its groundbreaking ideas, and I will definitely be reading more of Gibson's novels.

Minority Report and Other Stories, by Philip K. Dick (audiobook)

It's truly amazing how many of Dick's short stories have been turned into movies: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner), Minority Report, Paycheck, We Sell Memories Wholesale (Total Recall). Such a proliferation of adaptation points both to Dick's originality and his continued relevance. His stories deal with the all-too human issues of free will, self-indentification, and self-determination. This is what good science fiction does, it makes you think about things you would normally think of only in a philosophy class; it brings thoughtful intellectualism to a wider audience and makes it more palatable. The fact that Dick can achieve this in short story format is incredible. Short stories are very easy to write and notoriously difficult to write well. A good short story is often, I believe, more powerful than its full-length counterpart. I was very impressed with this collection, and look forward to reading his longer fiction as well.