Sunday, June 29, 2008

Clarkesworld Books Temporarily Open/ Update

I was very excited last night to find out that Clarkesworld Books, which used to be one of my favorite bookstores before it closed, is temporarily open through July 31. The order minimum is $35, but it's for a good cause - the owner is trying to free up some space so his two boys can have bigger rooms. So you can always justify your order by telling yourself it has nothing to do with an uncontrollable book buying addiction - you're just trying to help some children.

Of course, that's what I told myself when I ordered 8 books (they were also very cheap since most of the books are on sale - the most expensive book I ordered was a signed book for $6.99). Two were signed books, one of which was also a new copy of Dreamsnake which is out of print. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula so I've been on the lookout for that one for a while. I also ordered a signed copy of Elizabeth Bear's Carnival. The abundance of signed books and hard to find books that are not very expensive are one of the reasons that this was one of my favorite places to get books until it closed.

Most of the regular mass market paperbacks are only $3 or $4 now and the signed ones are about the normal price for mass market paperbacks. In addition to what I got, I also saw some signed books by Charles de Lint and China Mieville as well as a few more expensive ones by Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman. They also still have signed copies of Elizabeth Bear's Blood and Iron, which is where I got my signed copy that I read not that long ago.

I also got a couple of Catherine Asaro's Skolian books, the two Alastair Reynolds books that complete the series beginning with Revelation Space (which I am very eager to read but keep putting off because I don't have the rest of the series), City of Pearl by Karen Traviss, and Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair. It was hard to just narrow it down to a few books.

Now for the update part of this post:

Unfortunately, my weekend was too busy to post a review like I normally do on the weekends. The next review will be Witness by Bill Blais, to be followed by The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro, which I'm nearing the end of now. My order containing the next two "Promethean Age" books and Maledicte should arrive pretty soon and I'm looking forward to continuing Elizabeth Bear's series.

I really wanted to have another book read before Tuesday so I'd have 25 books read halfway through this year but with the busy weekend I'm not so sure that's going to happen. Any suggestions for short, easy to get into books that can be read in a day or two? I'm really wishing the sequel to Grimspace was out right now because I'm looking for something like that book.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Guest Review of The Peace War


"Now, I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
- Vishnu, by way of
J. Robert Oppenheimer

Vernor Vinge has developed into one of the greatest science fiction authors of the last few decades, despite producing barely more than a half-dozen full length novels in his career. His last three books have all won the Hugo award for the year they were introduced, and in two of those cases I can vouch that he produced works of startling depth, thoughtfulness, and creativity (I have yet to read Rainbow's End). Vinge's third novel, The Peace War, is not quite up to the standards of his more recent work, but it is still an above-average read that is worth spending a few hours on.

During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, humanity went through a series of trials that landed it in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, though one more interesting than the standard Mad Max-type. While in the midst of the long-anticipated Cold War showdown between the US and USSR, scientists develop a tool that can neutralize even the most powerful nuclear weapons being wielded by the two sides: the bobbler. The bobbler surrounds whatever it's pointed at in a bubble that functions as a cross between an impenetrable force field and a pocket universe. Since there can be no interaction between the contents of a bobble and the rest of the world, it is the ultimate power; anything from a single soldier to an exploding nuclear bomb can be simply removed from reality.

Recognizing the power of their creation, the scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories don't just give up their creation to the government that funded it so it can be used to win the war; they decide to create a new, post-governmental world. They force an end to hostilities by bobbling the forces of both sides of the ongoing war, along with all the remaining global powers, and replacing them with the Peace Authority. The Peace Authority is mainly concerned with making sure humanity never again reaches the point where it can destroy itself, and to ensure this doesn't happen it uses the bobbler to eliminate not just dissidents and revolters but also the engineers, scientists, and technologists capable of producing advanced industry.

The Peace Authority's enforced stability and stagnation lasts for fifty years before it is rocked by a new discovery: bobbles expire. For Paul Naismith, the penitent inventor of the bobbler who has lived in hiding during the Peace Authority's rule, this discovery could be the wedge he needs to finally break the Authority's grip on global power. He has long been at the head of the Tinkers, an underground group dedicated to trying to raise the level of technology and the standard of living for those oppressed by the Authority, and--along with his new apprentice Wili--may finally be able to give the Tinkers the technology they need to fight back.



The Peace War
is somewhat of a throwback novel; to me, it feels like it was written during the golden age of science fiction, not in the mid-80's. Vinge posits a new sufficiently advanced technology, then builds a world around the consequences of that technology. With one exception, there is little time spent on character development or deep philosophy or even an intricate plot. Instead it is more like a not-so-strong Star Trek episode where two sides fight over who will find the right combination of technobabble to come out on top.

The exception I mentioned is Paul Naismith himself. Though the story is told from Wili's point of view, and Wili certainly plays a major role, Naismith is the only character with a real development arc that carries throughout the book. I kept picturing what would have happened to Dr. Oppenheimer had WWIII not only come to pass, but he was forced to live in the aftermath for the next fifty years, desperately trying to undo the effects of his work. This idea is enough to carry the book if you start to lose interest in exploring the mysteries of the bobble.

Beyond Naismith though, the characters are mostly uninteresting. Wili (to go back to Star Trek) fulfills the Wesley Crusher's Magic Beans role, and the other supporting characters are fairly stock. Vinge uses a somewhat annoying non-linear device in several chapters at the beginning of the book, which--though I understand why he did it--I think could have been done better. As with Vinge's other books, he sprinkles enough reality into his technobabble that readers with a college level understanding of computer science and higher mathematics will find some fun easter eggs, though understanding the references isn't necessary to following the plot.

Overall, The Peace War is a fairly quick, fairly fun read that brings to mind some of the old raw science fiction; it creates a technological toy, manipulates it like a child with a Rubik's cube, and provides just enough story structure to keep the whole thing from falling apart.

7.5/10

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Review of Blood and Iron



Blood and Iron is the first book in Campbell award winning author Elizabeth Bear's urban fantasy series, "The Promethean Age." The third book in the series will be out on July 1 and a fourth book is scheduled for release on August 5 of this year. With its lush prose, gray characters, and interweaving of mythology, Blood and Iron was a very enchanting story with enough complexity that a reread would be beneficial.

Unknown to most, the world of Faerie co-exists with the modern world. However, there are some mages with knowledge of this other world who have formed the Prometheus Club for the purpose of eradicating it. When the story begins, the mage Matthew feels the presence of a faerie and chases after her to find it is the Seeker of one of the two faerie queens, who is bound to serve her queen by bringing her half-faerie children. He witnesses Seeker's binding of an ancient powerful water horse intent on capturing the same girl the faerie servant is after - a feat that should have been beyond her abilities. Matthew manages to give Seeker his contact card before she rushes back to her realm but he knows she is forbidden to use it and couldn't even if she wanted to.

Once Seeker returns to faerie, the queen informs her that a new merlin, a being that does not just practice magic but is pure magic, exists and charges her with convincing this merlin to join their side in the war against the humans. Seeker goes to find this man, who to her great surprise, turns out to be the first female merlin in history. Soon she and Matthew are both vying for the merlin's trust as they both attempt to get her to see the sense of joining their respective groups.



I don't want to say too much about the plot other than what is revealed in the first three or four chapters since this is one of those books where part of the fun is figuring out all the connections. Bear throws you right into the story and how everything fits together is not immediately apparent. It is more subtle than a lot of fantasy novels and readers will need to pay attention to understand it - the author doesn't always come right out and spell it out for you. There are a lot of references to various mythologies of the British Isles in this book and the legends of Tam Lin and King Arthur are both prominent. Minor characters include King Arthur, Morgan La Fey, and Puck, and some historical figures have significance to the story as well. Although I knew quite a few of the references in this book, I still feel like I was missing a lot of them. It's one of those books that would probably come together better on a reread.

The characters in this book were realistic (well, as much as magic users and faeries can be). By realistic, I mean that they were neither good nor bad, although many of the character's actions are decidedly worse than what most of us would encounter in every day life. The Prometheans had an understandable motivation for their hatred of faerie and many of the faeries were doing what they did not through evil but because it was necessary for survival. Both sides committed horrific acts but both of these groups also had a reason for what they did. I loved the characters, though, especially that of Whiskey, the water horse.

This is a dark fantasy - hard choices are made and it's not a happy Disney story where everything works out for the best in the end. It's more along the lines of the original Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.

There is one part of this book which is a little jarring - at one point the point of view switches from third person to first person rather suddenly. It makes sense somewhat in context of the event, but it is a bit confusing since it's a few paragraphs from the end of a chapter. It also does take a little bit of time to really get involved in the story since it is not clear from the start exactly what is happening, but once it gets going, it is hard to put down.

For anyone who enjoys dark fairy tales, mythology, and books that slowly reveal connections between characters and events, I highly recommend this book. Once I get the sequels, they are immediately going to the top of my to-read pile.

8.75/10

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Update

I finished Blood and Iron, the first book in Elizabeth Bear's "Promethean Age" series so I should have a review of that up in the next couple of days. You could say I liked it since I want the next book now. It is out, but I'm going to be patient (ha!) and wait until the third book is out on July 1 and just order them both since I can't find the next book at any of my local bookstores. The final book comes out in August but I'm not going to be quite that patient.

Now I'm reading The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro (the sequel to Primary Inversion which I reviewed earlier this year) and Witness by Bill Blais.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tag!

I visited Realms of Speculative Fiction today and found I've been tagged. I'm now supposed to get the nearest book, turn to page 123, and copy the fifth sentence.

Hm, there an awful lot of books that could qualify as "nearest" with 8 bookshelves here... So I chose the book I just finished, Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear. That sentence is...
You should go.
Well, that's a boring sentence. What's on page 223?
Seeker whirled and hurled the glass into the fireplace.
There, now there's some drama! "You should go." *smash* "You can't tell me to go! Maybe you should go!" (Ok, really, the first sentence was in reference to visiting America and was not at all dramatic but I feel a little gypped that I don't have a sentence that implies the presence of pirates and wenches like over at OF Blog. So soap opera theatrics is the best I've got, even if I had to invent it.)

Guest reviewer John saw The Game of Thrones role playing book on the nearest shelf and wanted me to do that one, so I'll do that one for him. It says:
Raiders live on the edges of society, neither peasant nor noble, but somewhere in between.
I just can't win - a sentence on raiders and all they're doing is existing and being an average person.

Now I will tag:

Fantasy Debut
The Book Swede
The Book Smugglers
Fantasy Book Reviewer
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Guest Shameless Retroreview Plug: The Abyss

For many years, back before I decided that choosing favorites was a no-win proposition, The Abyss held a rather bizarre distinction for me: it was both my favorite book and my favorite movie. This is bizarre, of course, because novelizations of movies are very rarely good, much less great, and film adaptations of books very rarely manage to capture the full power of an exceptional novel. But Orson Scott Card and James Cameron created such an exceptional pair of complementary works that neither seems diminished by the strength of the other. It would therefore be completely impossible for me to review the book without referencing the movie, and so I am not even going to try. Card's novel is absolutely faithful to what appears on-screen, but also expands the story to provide extra background, more depth of character and relationship, and a completely new angle on the events as they are perceived by the abyssal aliens themselves. The result is a moving tale about love, the bonds the form in a tightly knit group of people, and what it truly means to be human.

Card opens his novel well before the beginning of the events in the movie by introducing each of the three (four, really, but more on that later) main characters with stories from their childhoods. We learn how Bud developed both an ability to allow a group of people to mesh and his hatred of the sea; how Lindsey came to be a masterful bitch and engineer; and how Coffey turned into a man capable of simultaneously loving his friends and dispassionately executing his enemies. These are not just throwaway backstory chapters though, as they are frequently referenced throughout the story and demonstrate a motivation for each character that makes their later actions seem not just logical, but inevitable given their histories.

After these three introductory chapters Card rejoins the plot of the beginning of the movie with the accidental sinking of the ballistic missile sub USS Montana by an unknown craft. Unlike the movie, however, we immediately know how and why this happened because it is told partially from the perspective of the aliens that did it. This is the first time we meet the Builders, as they call themselves, and the first hint that Card's novel will not just be a redecorated version of Cameron's script. While the movie only treats the Builders as a mysterious complication to the human events that are taking place, Card builds a full-fledged alien race with its own culture, voice, and reasons for intervening (or not) with the humans. Though the Builders do not appear in the novel with much greater frequency than in the movie, their greater transparency creates a mirror Card uses to reflect on both individual humans and humanity as a race beyond their somewhat clich├ęd treatment in the movie.

The sinking of the Montana, along with parts of Bud's childhood chapter, also serve to introduce the fourth main character in the novel: the ocean itself. No mere setting, The Abyss shows the ocean as a malevolent, hungry bitch. Every time somebody enters the frozen water and returns alive is a victory, and every struggle to survive is very clearly not man vs. nature but man vs. man. There is, of course, a long history of this sort of treatment throughout literature, but the unique properties of the ocean at abyssal depths gives a new face to the old character that makes it feel quite different. Bud's history only adds to the personal feeling of the struggle.

Having set up each of his main characters, Card finally introduces the main plot. Following the sinking of the Montana, the Navy is desperate to keep its secrets out of the hands of the Soviets. Unfortunately, they don't have the resources to attempt to salvage the sub themselves, at least not with a hurricane bearing down on the site of the wreck. Instead they're forced to use an experimental underwater drilling rig, the Deepcore II, as a platform for a team of SEALs to visit the sub and destroy any sensitive hardware and documents. Deepcore is run by Bud and his crew, a close-knit, thoroughly civilian group of oil workers who are not happy about being forced to abandon their test well and sent to explore "World War III in a can."

In the process of getting Lt. Coffey and his SEAL team down to Deepcore though, the Navy accidentally picks up a stowaway: Lindsey Brigman, the engineer who designed Deepcore, and Bud's almost-ex-wife. Bud's crew may not be happy about moving the rig, but Lindsey is furious, and her wrath is a force of nature on par with the sea itself. Though her knowledge is an asset to Coffey's mission, her attitude definitely isn't, and she becomes a source of friction for the two well-oiled machines of the SEALs and Bud's crew. For Bud himself she is more than just an annoyance; she is love and pain, devotion and cancer.

The Abyss: love story, character drama, and the best submarine chase in cinema history

Though the plot continues forward from there, these are really the main components of the core of the story. The Abyss really isn't about the cold war, or nuclear weapons, or even aliens; it's about relationships. James Cameron has said he wrote the script as a love story, and the movie reflects that. But Card's novel expands the focus from Bud and Lindsey's relationship to close relationships in general. He shows two contrasting models for these relationships in Coffey's military SEAL team and Bud's civilian rig crew, though the contrast isn't what you may expect. Coffey and Bud share many of the same characteristics as leaders, but they differ in one key area: why they do what they do. Coffey chooses to follow orders because he believes he is protecting a greater cause; Bud sees and will work for a greater cause, but his primary focus is always on his crew. As he puts it, "When it comes to the safety of these people, there's me and then there's God." All other concerns are secondary. This is really the only reason why you couldn't picture Bud in Coffey's position, acting in what he believes are the interests of the greater good while slowly losing his grip on reality due to pressure-induced psychosis; Bud's highest priority is his crew, so his 'greater good' would never include putting them in danger.

The internal dynamics of the two groups are also portrayed remarkably well by Card. Though his dialog matches the movie word-for-word, he also gives an explicit subtext to each line. In some books this might be anywhere between distracting and destructive to the narrative, but it works in The Abyss because this character study is part of the narrative. In any group as close as the rig workers or the SEAL team, every sentence will have significance that isn't understood by outsiders. Card's recognition of this and decision to spell out these undercurrents of meaning reminds the reader that, despite their omniscient perspective outside the story, they really don't understand what's happening because they are not part of the group. The reader needs to be told what's really being said, where a true insider would already know without having it spelled out. The strengthening of this wall only serves to make the groups appear closer together, and the subtext makes for a fascinating look at how families (for that is what they really are) behave.

I may be a special case because my history allows me to strongly identify with an aspect of each of the three main characters' personalities, but I find The Abyss to be a novel on par with Card's strongest works of the time, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Similarly, I also believe Cameron's movie is better than the mega-hits he made leading up to it, Terminator and Aliens. Neither is technically perfect, but I think they surpassed the high water mark of 2001 that Card identifies in his afterward as the best movie-novel combination to date because they took the simplest, most common story possible-a love story between man and wife-and built a truly remarkable work of fiction that succeeds on every level from personal struggle to philosophical debate with global consequences. I heartily recommend both.

9.5/10

Friday, June 13, 2008

Forgotten Friday: Beauty by Robin McKinley




I first heard of posting about forgotten books on Friday's a couple of weeks ago and was reminded of it again today when I read the OF Blog's feature on The Famished Road by Ben Okri. I've only been reading speculative fiction regularly for the last few years, so I thought I didn't have any older books to mention since I already read and review a lot of the older ones I have missed here. However, a few books did come to mind and I decided to write about an old favorite, Beauty by Robin McKinley.

When I say this is an old favorite, I mean it quite literally - the first time I read this book I was probably about 9 years old. I picked it up at the local library and was absolutely enchanted by it, but years later when I tried to remember the name and author of the book all I could remember was that it was about the tale of Beauty and the Beast. Some research and asking around on my college's intranet boards finally turned up this book as a possibility. It was with some trepidation that I bought the book - what if it wasn't the right one or I didn't enjoy it as much anymore? It is, after all, a young adult novel I read as a kid.

My fears were unfounded and I loved the book just as much as the first time I read it. The book had me charmed from the very beginning when our plucky heroine Beauty describes how she, the clever and bookish ugly duckling of the three girls in her family, came to be known by this attribute:
I was the youngest of three daughters. Our literal-minded mother named us Grace, Hope, and Honour, but few people except perhaps the minister who had baptized all three of us remembered my given name. My father still likes to tell the story of how I acquired my odd nickname: I had come to him for further information when I first discovered our names meant something other than you-come-here. He succeeded in explaining grace and hope, but he had some difficulty making the concept of honour understandable to a five year old. I heard him out, but with an expression of deepening disgust, and when he was finished I said: "Huh! I'd rather be Beauty."
The early part of the book details the life of the family as they undergo some financial difficulties. While this part of the story was interesting and helps you understand why Beauty is so sad to leave her father and sisters, the best part of the book starts when Beauty arrives at the Beast's castle. From her father's tale of the beast, Beauty is expecting to be imprisoned by a cruel monster - instead she meets a kindly creature who can deny her nothing and tries his best to make her happy. She is surprised to find she actually comes to enjoy the beast's company but can she let herself actually love this hideous brute?

Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairy tale, so it's no surprise that I'd have a soft spot for this book. Yes, this is a bit of a girlie book, but for those who like that sort of thing, I'd recommend it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Review of Elantris



Elantris is the first published novel by Brandon Sanderson, the author who will be completing the final novel in the Wheel of Time series. Although it leaves a few questions unanswered, this is a stand alone book and no sequels are planned. While Elantris is a solid debut and an entertaining story, it never rises above readable to the level of exceptional.

The Shaod, a mysterious transformation that turns an ordinary person into an Elantrian, was once viewed as a great fortune. For many years the city of Elantris, gathering point and namesake of the Elantrians, reflected this great fortune as those changed by the Shaod gained godlike abilities of intelligence, healing, and magic. But ten years ago the blessing suddenly reversed and the Elantrians were transformed into hideous beings that look like animated corpses. They were no longer able to heal from any injury or practice magic. Their hearts ceased to beat and even though they no longer needed to eat, the constant hunger drove them into a state of inhuman madness.

Prince Raoden of Arelon awakens only a few days before his wedding to Princess Sarene of Teod to find he has been transformed. His fate is the same as any other person taken by the Shaod - he is thrown into Elantris to fend for himself among its factions of gangs. The prince is proclaimed dead, and Sarene arrives in Arelon just in time for the funeral. Even though Sarene and Raoden never technically met or underwent the official marriage ceremony, the princess is considered to be married due to a clause in the contract and remains in Arelon with the king and queen. She had thought she could love Raoden from the letters they had exchanged, and so had only married him partially for the political alliance it formed between their two countries, the last two nations that had not been conquered by a religion intent on converting the entire world. During this time, a Fjordell priest named Hrathen comes to Arelon with a mission - he has three months to convince the Arelons to follow his god or their leader will slaughter them. Only Sarene sees the possible threat when Hrathen begins to decry the evils of Elantris and takes it upon herself to stop his political schemes.



This novel is not about adventuring and fighting but is about people and politics. Scheming is a favorite of mine but I found the need to discuss it endlessly and point out every little detail of what was happening and why in this novel a bit excessive. Part of this was necessary since the world is imaginary so the motivations of the different nations were not always clear, but I think it was overdone and it did not need to be spelled out as much as it was at times.

The characters were likable but lacked the depth to make them feel real. Raoden was much too perfect, with an unwavering optimism that was not believable for someone who woke up one morning to find out he was a corpse. He rarely despaired and was determined to reform Elantris and its inhabitants. While I loved Sarene, she was also much too superior to the other characters in the book - more intelligent, more witty, more liberated than the other women, and more aware of politics. Her only real flaws were that she was headstrong enough to get herself in trouble sometimes and she moped about being married to a dead guy at times. The most interesting personality was Hrathen, who became more of a gray character the further the story progressed.

From my critiques above, it may sound like I thought this book was not worth reading, but that is not the case. The fantasy world was different from a lot of what I have read and the story was engrossing other than a bit of slowness toward the middle. It just failed to go beyond the "average good" book and the flaws became more apparent after putting the book down at the end and thinking about it more. However, Sanderson seems to have overcome many of these flaws in his more recent book Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first book in his Mistborn trilogy, so if those imperfections seem too great for you but you'd like to try reading one of his books that may be a better one to start with. I did think that despite its technical flaws Elantris had a certain charm and magical feel that Mistborn: The Final Empire lacked.

Despite some problems such as unrealistic characters and too much explanation, Elantris is readable and entertaining. As a straight-forward book that does not require a lot of effort, it would perfect light summer reading for someone who needed a longer book to occupy them.

7/10

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Review of Dune

Winner of the first Nebula award in 1965 and co-winner of the Hugo award, Dune is regarded with an almost reverent awe by some. As one of the first science fiction novels to emphasize characters, Dune is the precursor to many of the modern books in the genre that we read today. In spite of its reputation as a must-read novel in the genre, I put off reading it for years, thinking it was probably dry and dated with flat, boring characters and lots of technobabble. Fortunately, I found these preconceived notions of mine to be wrong. Although it is not a perfect novel, Dune contains interesting characters, political intrigue, religious themes, a very detailed world, and philosophy that made for an enjoyable and profound reading experience.

Fifteen year old Paul Atreides was never supposed to exist once the Reverend Mother of her Bene Gesserit order commanded his mother to bear Duke Leto Atreides a daughter. However, the Lady Jessica did not want to disappoint the duke, and a part of her dreamed that their son would be the Kwisatz Haderach, the man who was foretold to be able to "be in many places at once." Paul shows signs that he may indeed be this man as he grows older, and the Reverend Mother tests him with the gom jabbar, a test normally only reserved for women. He passes the test, enduring more pain than any woman tested ever has, but this is not proof that he is the Kwisatz Haderach.

Meanwhile, House Atreides has more immediate problems than young Paul, whose potential lies mostly in the future. Emperor Shaddam IV has noticed the Duke's growing power and decided to neutralize it by pitting Atreides against House Harkonnen, an old and powerful family that already hates Atreides. He begins by taking the rich desert planet Arrakis from Harkonnen and gifting it to Atreides, providing an excuse for a direct confrontation between the two. When the Duke loses control of the planet to a combined assault by Imperial and Harkonnen forces, Paul and his mother are forced into hiding with the planet's natives. When the natives begin to recognize Paul's growing powers as the fulfillment of their own prophecies, the stage is set for House Atreides to finally fight back against Harkonnen despite its overwhelming military advantage.



As I said at the beginning of this review, I started Dune with the idea that it was going to be similar to the other older science fiction I had read, mostly the early Asimov novels in the Robot/Empire/Foundation series. I didn't feel that these books had very good characterization, and thought that Dune probably shared this drawback. Luckily, I was wrong; Dune's characters were much deeper than Asimov's, though they seemed to lack a level of emotion or heart that appears in many of my favorite books. The politics and intrigue almost seem to overwhelm the personalities of Herbert's characters, giving them a one-dimensional feel despite their overall strong development. Everybody is constantly manipulating everybody else, regardless of friendships or familial connections. While this is consistent with their situation in feuding noble houses, and indeed drives much of the book, it makes the characters feel less empathetic and not quite human.

These character development flaws were the only major problem I had with Dune. Otherwise, I found it to be an excellent story, filled with interesting political, religious, and philosophical undertones (and a few sandworms). Arrakis was an incredibly detailed world, well-crafted and realistic despite being thoroughly foreign and alien. The political infighting is as intricate as anything I've ever read, if not more so, packing more knifefighting (figurative and literal) into 500 pages than series like A Song of Ice and Fire has into nearly 3400. I don't want to say too much about the religious aspects of the story because they do not become key to the plot until late in the book, but suffice it to say I found them intriguing and one of the high points of the novel. I also welcomed the inclusion of multiple very strong female characters, particularly given that Dune was written in the mid-60's--by a man no less! A lot of current authors could take some tips from Herbert in this area.

The technical aspects of the writing are adequate, though not exceptional. Pacing was mostly good, though there were a couple of places where it seemed to drag a bit, and the style of prose mostly straight-forward. Ideas were at the center of Dune, and the writing was good enough not to detract from them.

I'm not ready to join the Cult of Dune as the greatest science fiction novel ever written, but it was thoughtful, complex, and overall enjoyable. I may actually read it again at some point, since it was entertaining, but I still felt I missed some of the more intricate details that would have made it even better. Despite some mixed reviews of Dune's sequels that have made me hesitant to continue the series, I am still tempted because of the strength of this novel.

8.5 / 10

Monday, June 2, 2008

Coming Up

I was hoping to get a review up tonight, but I seem to be having a case of writer's block tonight. Well, not exactly "block" since I know what I want to say - I'm just having difficulty articulating it at the moment. That review will be of the classic novel Dune by Frank Herbert, which I finished this weekend and rather enjoyed.

Currently, I am reading Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, the winner of the last poll on what to read next. After that, my plan is to start reading Witness by Bill Blais. I'm not sure what I'll read after that although right now I'm considering Blood and Iron, Calenture, or The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden.