Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fools Fate

If you haven't known I generally like fantasy novels. Fantasy in the likes of The Hobbit or The Wheel of Time (not adult fantasy; which I would probably like, but that's another post all together). Robin Hobb's Tawny Man trilogy is a quality followup to an excellent series she wrote back in the 90's about a young Assassin named FitzChivalry Farseer; the bastard son of the eldest prince at Buckkeep castle.

I don't want to get too far into the other books in this rating but I figure you needed a little bit of background information. The older series deals with the development of "Fitz" from boyhood into young adulthood as well as the budding of his friendship with "The Fool". The Fool is a critical character however we don't fully understand his value to the storyline until this newer series which chronicles the life of Fitz once he is a middle-aged man.

The newest series details how Fitz is torn from his life as a hermit and thrust back into the intrigue that surrounds the life of nobility at Buck Castle. Fitz's friendship with The Fool is further explored and their deeper, more meaningful, relationship is revealed. No, this isn't some sort of homo-erotic story with left leaning underpinnings. What it does deal with is the deep brotherly love of the two protagonists and how their bond comes into play in dealing with the evil antagonist.

Fools Fate is the final book in the series, and undoubtedly the last book about Fitz. It is a pretty good story written by an author who knows her craft very well. If you have followed the series you can't help but care for the outcome of both The Fool and Fitz as well as the myriad side characters who have added color and depth to the tale.

While there are a few things I could pick in the book they are generally all so minor they aren't worth quibbling over. My only substantial gripe was the ending seemed pretty rushed and slammed together to make all the loose ends tie up nicely. Almost too nicely.

Overall the story is quite good. It explores quite a few deeper issues by having Fitz be introspective, examines the value of a variety of relationships, delves into intrigue and deceit, and even brings in some of my favorite characters from the earlier books. If you are a fan of sci-fi/fantasy and you haven't had a chance to, I suggest you check out the Tawny Man trilogy and the Assassin Series by Robin Hobb.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sea of Silver Light

When it comes to the geek genres I definatly prefer fantasy to sci-fi. However, some science fiction has really entertained me over time such as Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (I can't really speak too highly about the more recent sequels about Bean). Another such entry into the sci-fi genre that I have enjoyed is the Otherland series by Tad Williams. Otherland is a virtual world were earths wealthiest businessmen plan on transferring their souls and living forever.

Sea of Silver Light is the concluding chapter in the Otherland saga and I have to say it wasn't as good as the first three books in the series. I still enjoyed it but something about the way it ended just seemed kind of hollow and lacking to me. I don't want to spoil the storyline so I won't say anything more about that. What I will say though is that the Otherland series is great as a whole. The story is cool and shows a very believable not too distant vision of our world, the net's place in it, and how our lives will be permeated by the incredible levels of access to information we may all have someday.

I don't know if I liked this series as much as his fantasy series Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn but it was still a good read.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself
I just finished reading this book and can't recommend it highly enough. Some of the surrounding text such as the preface and the appendicies weren't that interesting but in conjunction with Douglass's stirring tale they fit in nicely. However, it isn't the story of Douglass that is so worth the read as it is the effect it has on the reader.

I think pretty much everyone has seen a movie or read a book that describes slavery in some way or another. The tale is almost always the same; oppressed black people being whipped and abused. Because of these earlier tales of depravity I was pretty much prepared for physical horrors beyond description in Douglass' narrative. However, there was little in this book that really dealt with physical abuses. Instead, Douglass spoke of the mental and spiritual hardships the slaves dealt with and in many ways these were much worse than any physical brutality. The wounds from the whip lasted days while the wounds to the slave's spirit often lasted for a lifetime as was the case for Douglass.

I think it is easy to forget that slavery was a legalized institution in this country as recently as 150 years ago. Douglass's grandmother lived into her 70's. So basically the lives of two grandmothers have passed since slaverys abolition. I think this would be a great book to add to US History courses in High School. It is fairly short and easy to read so it could easilly become part of the standard cirriculum.

I've been sitting on this post for a couple months now waiting to publish it because I just haven't been able to put into words the feelings I had after reading it and I still can't. The treatment Douglass and his friends, family, and loved ones endured was horrible and, sadly, was probably not even close to indicitive of how bad it was for many others enslaved. Our nation has come along way since the 1860's it is clear that we have a long way to go still in righting these wrongs. Is 150 years enough time to undo 400 years of oppression? I doubt it. Racism will never go away, only a fool or blind optimist would believe it possible, however I hope that it's effects that are buried deep in the fabric of society are eventually removed.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Knife of Dreams

Folks who have read all of, or just part of the series, know that Jordan likes to write. Some accuse him of liking to write so much that he just adds more words to each book in order to force the series into more books that it warrants. It is true that his descriptions of clothing, hair pulling, sniffing, and the general topography can get tedious at times. However, in general, his attention to detail is as much his greatest strength as it is his second greatest weakness.

It is almost universally agreed that books 1-4 of the series are great books however many feel that books 5-9 are full of boring dredge. I won't argue that books 5-8 aren't as exciting as 1-4 because quite frankly, taken as a whole, they aren't. However, they are, in my opinion, just as important to the story as 1-4. Those first books really build up the excitement of the series and give you a deep introduction to the main characters (though many of the Forsaken do remain virtually unknown beyond their name). However, the middle books pull the series into a more global perspective than I think anyone has done in a fantasy epic before. The events transpiring in The Wheel of Time truly are global in consequence and as such they affect many nations; not just that nation which the main protagonist is from. The main continent consists of many kingdoms. I define the main continent as anything south of the Mountains of Dhoom and east of The Spine of the World. Beyond this main continent (often dubbed Randland for the main character) there is Seanchan, the Aiel Waste, Shara, The Isles of the Sea Folk, and Tremalking (plus who knows how much more). If Jordan (aka James Oliver Rigney, Jr) didn't really dig into the political and social upheaval associated with the coming of the end of the world - well I would feel ripped off.

The last 3 books (9-11) have all been very good as well. In fact, I am inclined to say that I like book 11 as much as any other (if not more so) in the series. It was fantastically exciting, full of surprises (and not-surprises) interesting twists, and plenty of evidence the Tarmon Gai'don (the last battle between dark and light) is rapidly approaching. It is also strong evidence that the series is finally ending. The series will end with book 12 (sadly, not written by R.J. who passed away last year). I still can't wait for that to be released. My only major gripe about this installment, as always, is the cover art by Darryl K Sweet. I can't stand his manner of drawing people.

I'm not all fanboy of the series though. There are many things about it that nag at me and I will post about them once my younger brother Joe has caught up in his reading. I don't want to provide any added influence to his reading.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Eragon is about a boy that finds an Egg and a whole lot more! Considering Eragon is written by a teenager the story isn't too bad; a bit simplistic but overall a fun read that fly's right past you almost as quickly as the Dragon, Eragon, grows. I borrowed the book from a friend and never got around to reading the others in the series. I am glad I didn't buy it as I don't think it was worth the price of a used paperback let alone a hardback.

The book was so quick and simple I figured a quick and simple review was enough. I actually read this book but that is as far as I went in the series.


Friday, September 12, 2008


I bought Cryptonomicon because the back sleeve print sounded great and overall I really liked this book. The tie between WWII and a more modern day computer scientist was pretty interesting. Plus, it is rare that I can find a book that deals with wars, adventure, treasure hunting, and cryptography all at the same time. The only downside to the book was that Neal Stephenson at times seemed to talk down to his audience.

Perhaps I expect a bit too much from the audience but it seems to me the average person who is going to pick up a book about cryptographic adventures is a bit of a geek who would have some basic understanding of cryptography, algorithms, and maybe even history. Because I do have a minor base of knowledge on all of these topics I was kind of put off by the fact that Stephenson repeated some of the basics a few too many times and seemed to take a long time to explain some things that were pretty simple, in my opinion. Because of this it almost seemed like Neal was taking a chance to "brag" about how much he knows. However, even with this complaint I still recommend the book. It's kind of long, but not too bad - I've never been one to knock a book for being long (so maybe his know-it-all attitude is more bothering than I realize) - however, the story flows along pretty well.

Even if you aren't a geek, if you have any interest in treasure hunting type stories or WWII based historical fiction this would be a good novel to pick up.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

House of Chains (Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 4)

House of Chains

In this, the fourth book in the series, we start out getting to know a Toblaki. That "race" may seem familiar if you were paying attention in Deadhouse Gates. When we first met Sha'ik and her two body guards; if you remember one of those was a large Toblaki warrior. Well, as it turns out it is this very same guy, Karso Orlong, who opens the House of Chains.

Honestly, I didn't like this guy at all but as the book got further along he slowly became a great character. Perhaps my favorite of the series so far. It doesn't hurt that he is a complete bad ass who pigheadedly won't back down from anyone; even when he should. Of course, like all of Eriksons characters we always seem to meet at least one guy who is even tougher than the guy we think is the toughest and the case is no different for Karsa - I'd love to know more about this lightening fisted fried/foe of the Toblaki!

This book isn't all about Karsa though he does play a key role in it. Instead, it is really about the new house that was unveiled in the deck of dragons the House of Chains and it's master, The Crippled God.

As an aside we also are treated to the long awaited confrontation between Tavore and Felesin and the armies of Raruku and the Malazan forces. I won't say much about this other than the way it all works out is a bit different than I envisioned going into the book.

With all the killing and violence that has occured in the prior books this one has the most graphic scene I have encountered in a book in quite a while and I was glad to see it - the ghastly death couldn't have happened to a better character. Again, I don't want to spoil any of the plot but trust me, when you encounter it, you'll know what I'm talking about. Pure poetic justice.

Much like Karsa I didn't like this book much when it first started. I was thrown off by the sudden focus on a new character in a new part of the world. However, as the book progressed I grew to really like it, and, just like with Karsa, I think it is my favorite of the series so far. A whole bunch of small bits and pieces came together in this book that had been alluded to in the prior installments in the series and it was cool to see how he tied everything together.

I had been told that he loved to leave little hints about the future, bits of foreshadowing and what not, all over the place but I didn't really appreciate that until this book because this was the first time those connections were actually being made.

While Erikson still doesn't do much in terms of direct descriptions of people or places he does manage to subtly give you a lot of details on various characters and nations. In fact, I could easily see myself reading books that just focused on certain groups such as the tribes of the Toblaki or the Moranth. He has hinted at so much about these people that it would be cool to really dig into their cultures and histories.

At the moment I have my hands full just reading what he is writing. It isn't hard reading but I'm way behind in the series and have to catch up. Plus I really want to know what happens with Karsa and how his early actions in this novel will effect later episodes in the epic about Gods and the Malazan Empire.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 3)

Memories of Ice

Memories of Ice takes place at just about the same time as Deadhouse Gates did. However, instead of following along with the story of Fiddler, Kalam, Crokus, and the Whirlwhind Goddess in Raraku we instead travel amongst the mixed company of Caladan Brood's army intermingled with Dujek Onearms "outlawed" Malazan forces. It seems everyone in both books has figured out that Dujek's army was outlawed for expediency so that the two forces could team up to face off against the suicidal and fanatical forces of the Pannion Seer.

Considering the Brood army and the Dujek army have been busy fighting a war for the past decade or so it is understandable that there are some issues that need to be ironed out in the trust department between the two leaders. However, Wiskeyjack seems to forge a bridge between the two armies as Caladin (and his lieutenant, Anadomer Rake) find they truly like and trust Whiskeyjack.

While the first book focused on the city of Darujistan this story seems to have a fulcrum around the doomed city of Capustan which is guarded by the able, but undermanned, forces of the Gray Swords. The Gray Swords are an army of mercenaries sworn to the Fener, the God of War. Unbeknowst to them Fener is a fallen God while his rival Treach, the God of Summer, is rising. Fortunately for the Grey Swords they manage to find unexpected allies in the forces of Treach while defending Capustan.

The seer seems besieged on all sides as he faces down the Malazan's and their allies near Capustan a powerful and mysterious woman, Envy, has gathered about her a small band of impressive warriors that manage to cut a sizable swath through the Pannion's forces as they move toward the Seer's capital of Coral.

As the wars of mortals takes place the T'lan Imass, an undead legion of peoples sworn to destroy all Jaghut are called to the second gathering where they hope to be relieved of their eternal curse of non-life. The summoner for this gathering just happens to be traveling with Whiskeyjack's forces - a fortuituous pairing considering the deadly allies the Pannion is employing in his war against all who oppose him; the K'Chain Che'Maille.

If all of the odd ethnicities and nationalities are a little confusing - it's ok you aren't the only one. Erikson doesn't do a lot to really explain each group other than to give you a rapid introduction to them. Thankfully, if they are non-humanoid in appearance he at least gives you that much information.

Erikson also doesn't give you a lot of time to breath in stories. There is always something important happening or preparing to happen. You can skim over some of the descriptive fluff if that's your style but don't skim for more than a paragraph or two lest you miss the opening to a great confluence of peoples or events that set the stage for even greater moments.

So far in the three books we have met the forces of the Malazan Empire, the people of Pale (who fought the Malazan's), the people of Darujhistan (who also opposed the Malazan encroachment), Caladan Brood's armies, the Tiste Andii and Anadomer Rake, a couple Jaghut's, K'Chain Che'Maille, the army of the apocolypse in Raraku, a single Toblaki (some other race), the Pannion Domin's forces, the tribal Barghast, insect like Moranth, Gods, Ascendants, and quite a bit more. It can be a bit overwhelming at times but, at the same time, it all ends up making sense. So if you start to feel intimdated by the sheer scope of the novels stick with it - I don't think you'll regret it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Spring

New Spring : The Novel (Wheel of Time)
"New Spring" the prequel novel to the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan tells the story leading up to the birth of Rand Al'Thor. I had previously read the short story of the same name in the Legends Compendium and didn't really plan on reading the full novel. However, someone bought it for me as a Christmas present. I'm glad they did.

It was much shorter than any of the other novels in the Wheel of Time series (that I can recall) but was really very good. It provides some of the back story surrounding Suian, Moiraine, and Lan. In particular it focuses on how Suian and Moiraine came to be searching for the Dragon Reborn and how Lan became Moiraine's warder. Unlike in the majority of the Wheel series Jordan doesn't become swamped under by too many details. Generally I don't mind the incredible level of detail Jordan gets into but the stark contrast evident in New Spring was pretty refreshing.

Overall, the story flowed along nicely. It was almost like I had just discovered Jordan's work again. I actually stayed up late and kept reading until I was done; something I haven't done since book 3 or 4. The next chapter, Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time, Book 11), had the same effect on me. If you haven't read any of the Jordan series before I suggest you be careful before you do. Obviously (since we are waiting on book 12, not counting New Spring), the series is LONG. Not only that but each book is LONG. So reading the series is a commitment. Personally, I think it is a worthwhile commitment - but it is a commitment nonetheless.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Deadhouse Gates (Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 2)

Deadhouse Gates picks up right where Gardens of the Moon drops off. The siege of Darujhistan is finished and the Bridge Burners have separated. This book follows the path of Fiddler (engineer), Kalam (assassin), Crokus (Thief), and Apsalar (fishergirl/assassin) as they head back to Apsalar's homeland to return her to her father.

While the group travels across the world we also meet two new characters, Icarium and Mappo. Icarium is a Jaghut warrior whose name was introduced in the Gardens of the Moon as a master of time keeping machines. Mappo is a trell warrior who seems to truly care about Icarium while at the same time torn by his duty to his own people. Eventually Mappo and Icarium join up with Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar where we learn even more about Icarium and Mappo's long standing relationship.

As Fiddler and his group travels they separate from Kalam as they approach the land of the Seven Cities. Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar have their own collection of troubles as they try to skirt the desert of Raraku while Kalam heads directly into it while trying to deliver a book to a mystical woman named Sha'ik - the delivery of the book is set to trigger a rebellion against the Malazan empire. Unbeknownst to Kalam though he is being followed by a female warrior of the Malazan Red Blades, Lostara Yil, and a master assassin named Pearl whose job it is to stop the rebellion for occuring. After Kalam passes through Raraku he picks up a demon bodyguard and then ventures toward the heart of the Malazan empire in an effort to assassinate the Empress herself.

While all this is going on we also follow the story of young Felesin Paran, youngest sister of Ganos Paran whom we met in the Gardens of the Moon. Felesin's older sister Tavore, has taken on the role of Adjunct to the Empress which was left vacant at the end of book one. It appears that Tavore sacrificed her sister to a life of slavery in a mine far away. Felesin, along with two companions, Heboric and Baudin, go to the mines and attempt to ally with either in order to better survive. Heboric is a fallen high priest of the God of War, Fener while Baudin is far more than he seems.

Meanwhile the people of the seven cities can feel their rebellion is about to start and it does in earnest. The Malazan forces are led by a military mastermind in Coltaine but he is encumbered by the thousands of civilians he has to defend that have been forced from their homes by the rebels. Coltaine is also hampered by the fact that he has to move his forces and the civilians thousands of miles across the desert to the nearest reinforcements.

As you can see this is not a simple story but rather many told in an interweaving pattern. I'm actually in the middle of the fourth book in the series as I write this review and it has been cool to see a lot of small references tide back into things that happened in this book. A lot of bits and pieces that really seemed insignificant here actually prove to have far greater significance later on.

I really enjoyed Deadhouse Gates even though at times it was a little slow. It, along with the third book, Memories of Ice, serve as a great bridge into the later books. I highly recommend it


The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America is a eerily believable retelling of the what America could have been like had one thing happend - if Charles Lindburgh had become president instead of Roosevelt in 1940.

If you weren't aware (I wasn't) Lindburgh was actually a known anti-semite (as was Henry Ford who also plays a role in the Lindburgh administration) however Lindburgh had captured the nation's sympathy due to the kidnapping of his child and their admiration for his many daring flights - such as his transatlantic flight made in the Spirit of St. Louis. In The Plot Against America Lindbergh gets involved in politics (a stark difference from his real life were he preferred to keep his politics personal) by standing upon a platform of isolation during the rising conflict of WW2.

The course of events that led Lindburgh into the oval office and the subtle effects his policy's have on the Jewish population as described by the Author (he writes from the perspective of his family in suburban NJ when he was only 7) make this book very plausible. Frightengly so. Phillip Roth tells a tale that shows his family being torn apart by the various government programs intended to "Absorb American Jews into the Social Fabric". This small, personal conflict is a minor reflection of the same events that are taking place within American society at large until finally there were large NAZI rallies and riots against the Jews in the midwest.

The book is pretty short (416 easy pages in the trade paperback) and the characters are all very believable. The scariest part of the book is the fact that it all seems like it could happen at any time, even today, if the wrong people had power; and perhaps, if your a Muslim in America you may feel it is already happening.