Friday, April 24, 2009

Condensed Reviews: Parable of the Sower and The Two Georges

For over a year now I've managed to review every single speculative fiction book I've read. I was hoping to continue this trend but have been behind ever since the holiday season. Then I was close to getting caught up last month before I got sick for a couple of weeks. I've finally given up hope on getting all those reviews in so I'm going to compromise by writing condensed, more casual (but hopefully still somewhat informative) reviews of the two books from last month that I still haven't discussed here.

The first of these is last month's Blogger Book Club selection, Parable of the Sower. Unfortunately, the week of the Book Club occurred on the first of the two weeks I was sick, so I didn't write it while it was going on. The second book is one that John wanted me to read, an alternative history called The Two Georges.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower is a near-future dystopian novel by well-known science fiction writer Octavia Butler. It has one sequel Parable of the Talents but no cliff-hanger ending.

The future Butler describes is very grim. Resources are scarce, including water. Teenager Lauren lives in a gated community that she rarely leaves since most people would just as soon rob and kill you as look at you. Although many choose to believe they are safe within their walls, Lauren believes it is inevitable that one day the gates will be forced down and those who survive will be forced to leave.

Parable of the Sower is a slower paced book that touches on issues of social inequality and human nature. The entire story is told through Lauren's journal, which is a pleasure to read. I very much liked Lauren, a young woman who embodies the word survivor. Instead of refusing to live in ignorance about the state of society, she attempts to educate others and keeps a survival kit for the day she is forced out of her safety net. Although she struggles with her hyperempathy syndrome that causes her physical pain when she injures another, she learns to defend herself and is willing to take any measure necessary to keep herself alive in this dreary world. She's also very reflective and develops her own religious worldview in which God is not the god of her Baptist minister father but is change - a very realistic view for a girl who can only have hope if the world she knows does not remain stagnant. Throughout her journal, Lauren develops her religion, called Earthseed, and decides their destiny is to take root among the stars.

At times it was a little slow, but overall, I enjoyed Parable of the Sower very much for its thoughtfulness and strong main character.


The Two Georges

The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss explores a world in which the United States never gained its independence from England and the numerous groups dedicated to freedom from Great Britain are unpatriotic and treasonous. This is not the only difference between reality and the projected reality - it also exists in a steampunk setting complete with airships. The main story is the mystery of a stolen national symbol, a painting called The Two Georges that depicts the unity of George Washington and King George.

The first 100 pages were fairly interesting, the next 300 pages gave me a hard time, and the last 200 pages were much easier to read again. I ended up taking a break once or twice during that 300-page middle section because it was just so bloated. There was a lot of traveling and a lot of eating. Seriously, the author described almost every single meal the main characters ate during that section - where they were eating, what they were eating and drinking, whether or not what they were eating was good, and on a couple of occasions, whether or not anyone was offended by what someone else ordered because it was disrespectual to his/her ethnic group. One page I read had them eating at the top of the page and then eating again at the bottom of the page. Needless to say, I often ended up very hungry while reading this novel.

John told me that this book was very wordy and he had to skim a lot of the details to enjoy it. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at skimming and read every word because I'm afraid I'll miss something important amidst all the descriptions of breakfast.

The characters were somewhat standard - the detective, his sidekick, and a token spunky woman who insisted on investigating the matter after being told not to. You know the type - the type who causes trouble with her recklessness and disobedience to orders. However, she was not an unintelligent ditz and did actually end up having quite a few valuable insights that earned her respect. Of course, the lead character fell in love with her. Shocking turn of events, I know.

The Two Georges could have been about half as long and the characters were rather generic, but I did enjoy the crime in the beginning, the resolution, and the setting.


[Editor John's Note: Yeah, I liked this book quite a bit, but it was after I had read a lot of Turtledove and developed a resistance to his wandering around in detail. I still maintain that it's an enjoyable read if you allow yourself to skim over some parts and read for concept rather than specific detail...I certainly wouldn't have wanted to finish the book if I had read every word of it. All of his work is like that, I think...but I also think that about Tolkien, so, what do I know.]

[Kristen's Note: Odd, I never had that problem with either Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit - never had any desire at all to skim it. Maybe I was more patient in my younger years.]

Next will be a return to regular review format with the last book I have up for review, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. My plan is to work on that tomorrow because I am sure it will not be long before I finish The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro because I am absolutely loving it.


orannia said...

Thank you Kristen. I like the snippet reviews (and the longer ones two). I don't think I'll be picking up The Two Georges...I hate getting bogged down in books :)

And I look forward to seeing what you think of Wicked Lovely. I'm a huge Melissa Marr fan!

Harry Markov said...

You do well with both formats. I am still struggling writing long reviews mainly because I have such reduced time to get down to it and write it the way I want. With that said on with the novels.

I think I will pass The Two Georges as I would gain 20 pounds just reading it. When I read about food I get hungry. It's my brain that is wired strangely and at the same time I am not a great fan of detective fiction, unless it's something really spectacular. Generic is a curse word.

But I would take on the Parable of the Sower anytime. I am curious toward the diary type of novel, since I am considering updating the format with a new novel project. :)

ediFanoB said...

Kristen, don't overdo things. You put a lot of pressure on yourself. You should enjoy what you do. And I think it is even better for you and your readers when you enjoy reading books and writing reviews even you write less reviews.
I don't have an own blog but I like to read blogs and write comments. But everyday is a walk on the tightrope. To find the balance between work, family, internet, reading books and sleep. I failed a lot in the past month. But I'm working on it and I think I'm on the right way.

I like both formats. I read both reviews. I neither read a bookby Octavia Butler nor by Harry Turtledove.
And to be honest that won't change after reading your reviews. So thank you for your reviews which helped my to clarify this.

Kristen said...

Orannia - I don't like getting bogged down in books, either. About half of The Two Georges was readable but in a 600 page book, it needs to be more than that to truly enjoy it. It's not one you would find easily since it's out of print anyway.

I'm sorry to say, I didn't like Wicked Lovely very much so you may not look forward to what I have to say about it after all...

daydream - Thanks! It is difficult to find the time to write longer reviews. It takes me at least a couple of hours, usually more. I used to always wait until I had the time to write the entire review but I have found it helpful lately to just start it and then go back to it later the next time I have some spare time.

Good point, I'm surprised I didn't gain 20 lbs when reading The Two Georges. I'm very susceptible to food ads - they always make me want to go to that restaurant right now. (John confessed later after I told him it talked about food a lot that that was one of the reasons he gave it to me - he thought it would be funny. :P) If you're not a big fan of detective fiction, I'd definitely pass on that one unless you were a big fan of alternative history and/or steampunk and didn't mind a lot of verbosity. The characters and their role in the story were the main generic part.

Parable of the Sower was pretty good, though, and if you want to read a novel told through a diary format, that would be a good one.

ediFanoB - Thanks for your input. I have always been told I am far too hard on myself. Sometimes it is hard to find that fine line balancing everything you need to do and want to do. I read and blog because I enjoy it, although it is much more fun when I don't have a huge backlog of books to be reviewed, which is why I decided to just forget about reviewing every single book in the usual format. Now that I'm caught up it is a big relief and hopefully it can stay that way. If I do get too far behind again, maybe I will just skip some reviews or write shorter reviews again.

That's fine with me if you don't want to read either book. Whether I love or dislike a book, I never consider it my goal to convince someone to read it (although I can't help being enthusiastic if I do really love it and admit I do enjoy it when someone tells me they want to read one of those books). Individual taste is subjective so I strive to provide enough information about what I liked and didn't that readers can decide if it sounds like something they'd like to spend their time reading or not.

Harry Markov said...

I think witrh my crazy time I will need to try the same and craft my reviews one nibble at a time. I can understand your frustration at times, because I am trying to be a good blogger, a good college student, a good friend, a good writer and published writer as well, so it's a major chaos, but remember that as long as it's fun it's worth doing.

And you oughta punish James for conducting such vile experiments. I would have succumbed and yeah I am definitely a fan of characters more than world building , so I can't stand cardboard people in novels.

Kristen said...

daydream - Wow, you have a lot to do. It suddenly makes balancing a full time job, blogging, laundry and other chores, and spending time with the fiance not sound so bad. Someone needs to start a petition for more hours in the day.

I also prefer to read about characters with depth instead of a fantastic world (preferably both, of course, but if I have to choose between the two, it's characters that really can make or break the novel for me).

Nephtis said...

Kristen, even your "short" reviews are great, IMO. Personally, when I'm reading a review for a book I haven't yet read, I ,mostly skim past the plot synopsis and in-depth discussion to the end of the review where you tell us whether you actually liked the book or not, and why.

Reviews are hard work, and you're pretty good at them. I'm glad you're liking The Last Hawk, not that I really doubted that, it's probably Asaro's best.

Nephtis said...

Also, I recognized a distinct feeling of envy in myself, so I'm going re-reading The Last Hawk again. :-D

Kristen said...

Nephtis - Thank you! :) I used to try to avoid plot synopsis altogether but I decided to just write it and try to keep each review in a similar format so anyone who didn't want to read that part could just skip it easily.

I finished The Last Hawk this morning and LOVED it. As much as I enjoyed Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas, I liked this one better than either of those (and of course Skyfall which I liked well enough but not as much as those ones). I loved Kelric and the other characters, Quis and Coban society, the exciting ending - everything about it, really. Asaro did a fantastic job of combining compelling characters with a very interesting social structure.

Quis reminded me a lot of the magic system in her fantasy series. It was a similar concept.

Nephtis said...

I finished The Last Hawk last night, at 2:00am before workday. Eek! I suppose I'll save my comments for your review.

I read the Nebula interview with Catherine Asaro. She's such a geek! I love how she can't seem to keep mathematics & physics out of her work even if she tries.

Kristen said...

Nephtis - Wow, you read that one quickly! I'm looking forward to reading about what happened after The Radiance War now.

The interview with Catherine Asaro was excellent! I'm curious about Quantum Rose now. And about the soundtrack for the new book.