Tag Archives: novel

Review: Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's SyndromeUnlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fun fact: the copy that I read was part of a limited print run of 1500 copies, all of which were numbered and signed by the author. Mine was 1384, which found its way to the King County Library System’s collection. Anyway.

This book is a companion novella to the novel “Lock In” and as such, it’s a slim, quick read. And you know what? That’s a goddamn shame! I enjoyed “Lock In” quite a bit . . . but “Unlocked” is something really special and it manages to hit all the right buttons in my brain.

I attribute this largely to its format, which is entirely done in an interview style of various individuals discussing the spread of “Haden’s Syndrome,” the effect which causes the “Locked In” condition that sets up the rest of the world. This interview style is very, very reminiscent of “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks, although without the zombies.

There’s something powerful in telling a story entirely through interview, which I suppose might be why interviews as a thing are reasonably popular. But fictional interviews are even better, because you’re not limited to how people actually talk, but can craft interesting, narrative driven responses that paint an entire world piece by piece. It’s considerably more interesting, which might be one of the reasons I never pursued a major in Journalism.

This novella was released before “Lock In” was published, so if you haven’t read either yet, do yourself a favor and read this one first. I’m more than willing to imagine that some of my concerns about the full novel would have been assuaged had I actually done things in the proper order. Even if you’re not planning on reading the full novel, “Unlocked” is an interesting little book that will occupy your mind far longer than it takes to get through it. Always a good thing, in my opinion.

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Review: O: A Presidential Novel

O: A Presidential NovelO: A Presidential Novel by Anonymous
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What a mess. “O” fails to live up to the standard (which really wasn’t that high) set by its obvious inspiration “Primary Colors” as a wink-wink fictional account of the 2012 election campaign between Obama and Romney. Even though it’s non-fiction, “Double Down” by Mark Halperin creates a more exciting narrative of the race, and that’s without the freedom to create any series of events one desires, since fiction doesn’t have to correspond to real events.

The story itself is a wandering mess. Point-of-view changes occur back and forth mid-chapter in an odd fashion. Despite being billed a book about “what O(bama) is really thinking,” he’s surprisingly absent for most of the book. Instead, we spend a lot of time looking over the shoulder of campaign manager Cal Regan and spend a lot of time going back and forth over the same issues of campaigning. Over and over.

Though it owes its existence to Primary Colors, O suffers in every comparison. Perhaps it’s because the Clintons, love ’em or hate ’em, are larger-than-life characters even in real life, with drama and scandal and intrigue. Contrast Bill Clinton with “No Drama Obama” and you see why the best the author can do is come up with a tepid “donor tries to share dirt about campaign rival” storyline that isn’t interesting, isn’t intense, and never actually turns into anything. Considering how little the story actually seems to follow the 2012 campaign, it’s a wonder why the author didn’t invent something more dramatic. The Republican opponent, Tom Morrison, seems to be a fusion between McCain (war hero) and Romney (businessman), so . . . maybe we’re just reading some guy’s political fan fiction about the hypothetical candidate he wishes could have existed to run against Obama?

Instead, we get side references to the fact that Obama likes to smoke, wishes he could play more rounds of gold, and swears sometimes. Riveting stuff.

If you want a more exciting political fiction novel that is based (loosely) on real people, read Primary Colors; it holds up better, and this is from someone who wasn’t overly impressed with that book, either. If you want a narrative that actually managed to be interesting, and has the added benefit of being true, look at Mark Halperin’s works, “Game Changer” and “Double Down,” about the 2008 and 2012 campaigns respectively. They’re good stories, and both have the added benefit of being based on actual events.

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Review: Sword of Destiny

Sword of DestinySword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Witcher series continues to be a breath of fresh air for the fantasy genre, which continues to be a supremely ironic thing to say considering this book was first published in 1992. This book continues the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, notable monster slayer and sorceress lover. The book itself is a collection of short stories as Geralt moves from one adventure to another, though these tales feel more connected than the stories from the previous book “the Last Wish.” In particular, we see how some of the biggest arcs of the Witcher storyline begin to take shape, especially the first meeting between Geralt and his Child of Destiny, Ciri (which was a hugely exciting moment considering Ciri’s role in the Witcher 3).

If there’s one thing about this book that I wasn’t crazy about, it’s this; I feel very much like I’m exploring this world without a road map, and not in a cool “let’s see what’s out there” way but in a “I feel like I’m missing something important here.” A lot of terminology isn’t explained and concepts and descriptions must be inferred from context, which is sometimes difficult considering the sparse, utilitarian writing style. It’s a problem with the previous book as well, honestly, but it didn’t bother me as much because even though it was the first book, I thought it might all be explained. Here, though, I was aware that despite having played one of the games, read two novels, and a graphic novel . . . there were still details that I didn’t quite follow.

That said, don’t overlook this book. It’s a wonderful fantasy world and everything about it and everyone in it are interesting and exciting. Most of all, however, is the fact that nothing about the Witcher feels like it’s in the long shadow cast by the Lord of the Rings. I have no idea if author Andrezj Sapkowski ever read Lord of the Rings, but even if he did, its influence isn’t here. Maybe it’s a product of cultural difference; the Witcher draws very heavily on its polish origins, but for an American reader, that creates a feeling of an entirely new world, something that isn’t easy to come by in the fantasy genre.

So, although I didn’t plow through this book with the reckless abandon of the first volume, I still enjoyed my time in Geralt’s world and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

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Review: Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

Primary Colors: A Novel of PoliticsPrimary Colors: A Novel of Politics by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Until the halfway point, this was a 4.5 star book. I’d just seen the movie of the same name recently so I was interested in reading the book to compare the two. I was also hoping the book would provide more insight into some of the characters’ decisions.

I was impressed by how faithfully the movie recreated scenes from the book; this might just be one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’d ever seen, which is even more impressive when you consider the context in which it was created; the mid-to-late 90s were rife with a lot of failed adaptations.

It’s rather fun to try and guess which characters are based on real people (and there’s a handy list for you to check your work). And the characters here are strong and interesting . . . at least at first. But where things go wrong is, perhaps not coincidentally, where the book and the movie versions diverge. The movie paces the book almost perfectly until the middle point, then skips over a lot of plot to leapfrog right to the big finale. Frankly, this was a good idea.

The book started to lose me around the time the main character had an affair with Susan (based on Hillary Clinton) and other . . . I guess you’d call it plot wandering? The plot and characters that was so taut and relentlessly paced seems to derail as Henry’s angst overwhelms any further direction. Unfortunately, it’s not something that resolves quickly enough and so the closing act drags until the big finish.

There’s also this weird thing about how faithfully the characters resemble the people they are based on and how some of the events very closely resemble things that really happened (such as the Cashmere McCloud/Gennifer Flowers scandal) but other ones are wildly fanciful (I don’t recall anyone in the primary dropping out due to a heart attack, then having his replacement drop out due to a drug scandal).

On the one hand, you recognize that a novel can be fantasy and that the real story of the 1992 presidential campaign didn’t have quite as many fun twists and turns. On the other hand, when you mix reality with fantasy so thoroughly, it creates a distance between the text and the reader, because now I’m not sure what to do with any of this material. I can’t dismiss everything, because some stuff is based on truth. But I can’t believe everything, because some of it is so obviously made up. It started out fun, at first, but eventually it just felt like homework.

So we’re left with a decidedly odd review at the end. On the strength of the characters, their dialogue, their interaction, and their sheer presence on the page, we come to 4.5 stars, maybe even 5 stars. Which is a really good thing, because this novel is almost entirely in dialogue.

On the other hand, the weirdness of some of the plot aspects and the sagging third act meant that after a roaring start, I found myself procrastinating on finishing the book, which means even with such wonderful characterization, the love/hate split I felt leaves me with a respectable, though not amazing, rating of three stars.

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Review: The Last Wish

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #1)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After spending almost two months enmeshed in the video game “Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” I wanted to explore more of Geralt’s world. While the game itself was made very accessible to a newcomer in the series (despite being based on a book series and being the third game), I knew there was so much more going on that deeper fans would understand that I was missing out on. So here I am, having finished the first book, which is a collection of short stories.

“The Last Wish” made me realize how narrow my world can be sometimes. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? It makes it sound like this was a bad book. But it’s not.

“The Last Wish” was written in 1992. It’s been out there, all this time, and yet I was wholly unaware of it until it gained enough fans to warrant a translation into English. How many other wonderful worlds are out there that I’m oblivious to? How many amazing stories are there to discover? I’ve heard constantly that the fantasy genre is shackled to the formula set down by Tolkien, but it wasn’t until “the Last Wish” that I realized what a breath of fresh air it was to be in a different style of world.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still elves and dwarves here, but the core of the Witcher’s world, the skeleton of it is based on dark fairy tales. It’s not the same old fantasy, but it reminds me of the early days when I’d first discovered fantasy novels and that feeling of diving headfirst into a mythical world. I’ve grown jaded and bitter in my grizzled old age, having read so many stories that followed along the well-worn path. But “the Last Wish” proves that there’s more out there, more to be discovered. It’s a good feeling and a great reminder.

And the book itself? You don’t need to play the game to read this book; if you like fantasy AT ALL, it’s worth your time. But there’s a very good chance you’ll want to pick up a controller after spending even a little time in Geralt’s world. Either that, or the next book in the series. Either way, it’s worth your time.

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Review: Purity

PurityPurity by Jonathan Franzen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was so very difficult to decide what to rate this book. Rarely has a book character just flat out irritated me so much . . . but irritated in a way that compelled me to keep reading. (For what it’s worth, I’m referring not to Purity, the main character, but Anabel, who shows up in one of the branching narratives. Purity herself was okay.)

This is often my experience with Franzen’s writing. Can I say that I really liked this book? If I didn’t like it, why couldn’t I put it down? Why did I race to finish it when my library’s due date edged closer? I’m convinced that this is indicative of a subtle talent and a prodigious skill, that I just. Kept. Reading. It’s still incredibly hard to know how to describe that feeling or even if I’d recommend the book. “I didn’t enjoy my time and yes, I was reading for pleasure, but it’s still a really good book?”

The story itself is classic Franzen, a world full of deeply flawed people. Purity herself breaks the mold from previous Franzen protagonists in that she’s actually a pretty likable person and her story is deeply compelling. The woven narrative between multiple characters creates a complex approach that I really enjoyed.

This book’s deepest flaw (aside from Anabel, who just drove me crazy with every page) is at that a book with sex and sexuality as a core theme, it’s a very unsexy book. I’m not sure if this is Franzen’s own writing style, if it’s intentional, or it’s due to the creepy Lolita vibe throughout the work, but I found myself skimming whenever clothes started coming off. Fortunately, that’s only a small percentage of the total book, so it wasn’t too much of a distraction.

I did roll my eyes at the line about how “Jonathan” just sounds like the name of a great writer. Really? Reeeeally?

And so we’re left with a flawed book that annoyed me more than almost anything I’ve ever read for my own enjoyment, but that I still read compulsively and could not put down. I don’t know what to make of that. I’m convinced that it means this work is brilliant. But it’s a weird place to be, mentally, and it makes for a hilariously awful blurb on the dust jacket.

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Review: Halo: New Blood

Halo: New Blood
Halo: New Blood by Matt Forbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best Halo novels I’ve read in a long time; maybe even my very favorite. It helps that it’s a story about one of Halo’s most likeable side characters: Sergeant Buck, originally from ODST, and now a squadmate in Halo 5. Buck is voiced and modeled by Nathan Fillion, an iconic figure to geeks everywhere and his character is basically a pitch-perfect translation of Malcolm Reynolds moved into the Halo universe. And it works perfectly.

Author Matt Forbeck either has the uncanny ability to mimic those around him, or he binged on Firefly episodes and Fillion’s other work while writing this book. You can hear Fillion’s voice in these pages and it’s excellent. The story itself is very human and focuses on the themes that make the Halo universe the most compelling: duty, identity, loyalty.

The story is told out of sequence, which is interesting as it creates a strong sense for how Buck (the main character and narrator of the story) thinks. We get a quick recap of the plotline of ODST, which is interesting, check in with some old comrades (which is interesting and also heartbreaking), and see how exactly Buck transitioned from ODST to Spartan-IV.

The best aspect of this story, however, is that it succeeds where almost all franchise tie-in novels fail: you don’t have to be a Halo fan to enjoy this book. It stands on its own; if you’ve never played a Halo game, you can still enjoy this story. It doesn’t rely on the reader having a degree in its own lore; if you’ve never played a Halo game, you’ll understand the difference between ODSTs (elite, but thoroughly human) and Spartans (human supersoldiers) and even the different classes of Spartans.

Most of all, it’s a human, character driven story. The ending, which I won’t spoil here, really did catch me off guard and caught me right in the feels. That’s a rare achievement for most books focused on space wars and future soldiers, let alone a video game novel.

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2015 Blog Retrospective

As another year comes to a close, I find that it’s fun to look back and see how things have gone for the blog over the past year. Overall, I’m really pleased; traffic has continued to increase at a steady pace and I’ve received enough comments from people to convince me that not all of the traffic is spam robots.

My post output has been reduced considerably compared to previous years, which sort of fun to puzzle over; more people are reading less content! Is that a thing to be proud of?

The problem is that posts don’t equate for all of my online footprint. If you take a look at my Goodreads page (perhaps through the helpful widget on the right siderbar!) you’ll notice that I’ve been writing reviews for the books I read. Time was I used to read a book, slap a star-rating on it, and go on my merry way with nary a grunt. About two years ago, someone pointed out that they were really curious why I’d rate a book with whatever rating I happened to give it, so I started actually writing my thoughts out.

The reviews tend to be shorter than blog posts, but since I read pretty quickly, there are a lot of them. So while blog post content is down, I think that’s because my output shifted to a source outside of this site. I’ve considered linking WordPress to Goodreads so that reviews would get posted here, but thus far I’ve resisted for the same reason that I don’t tweet my Goodreads links anymore; it feels annoying and spam-y to me. The content is there if you’re interested; no need to plaster it everywhere.

Which is an attitude that I realize makes me doomed in the evolving ecosystem of the Internet (see previous post about online advertising and ad block).

Finally, there were less posts this year because I’ve actually been writing my novel again! Between the experiment with giving my book away for free (and actually getting a bit of money for it, whee!) and the new project that really has my attention, there’s actually been a huge increase in my word ouput. It’s just in a place that no one gets to see right now, except for me and my spreadsheet.

So that’s what I’ve been doing over the past year. I realize it’s made this blog somewhat of a lonely place, but it’s been infinitely better for my head. I haven’t felt the urge to write a post just to write a post about something, which usually meant seeking out a topic that made me angry enough to have thoughts about it. It’s made for a more harmonious life. And really, we don’t need one more blog by a straight white guy on the Internet talking about things that make him angry. There are a lot of those already.

So instead I focus on my book, because my research has shown me that we really do need more books where people ride dinosaurs into battle and kill each other with them. Because dinosaurs are awesome.

Unrepentant: The Final Chapters (39-41)

This post contains the final chapters for my novel, Unrepentant. For those that have been reading since I started this experiment a few months ago, thank you for your interest in my work. Most of all, I’d like to thank my supporters on Patreon; more than anything, your support and readership has made this an excellent and enjoyable experience.

Thank you for reading.

Continue reading Unrepentant: The Final Chapters (39-41)

Unrepentant: Chapters 35-38

We’re nearing the end! Part 3 begins today and it’s the third and final part of the novel. In this post, you’ll find chapters 35-38. New chapters will be posted every Friday. If you enjoy the book, please consider supporting me via my Patreon account. Thanks!

Continue reading Unrepentant: Chapters 35-38