Monday, October 25, 2010



I am a big fan of three genres; military fiction, historical fiction, and speculative fiction (particularly those worlds that resemble medieval times on our planet) thus, it was with great interest that I picked up Robyn Young's novel, Crusade. Crusade is a historical fiction story based on the Templar's and their ongoing clashes with the Mamluk's that dominated the middle east during this period of the middle ages. It seemed like a perfect confluence of elements that couldn't possibly let me down.

I imagine, at this point, you've already figured out the kicker to this review. The story did let me down; in many ways. First and foremost Young just isn't good at describing battle sequences. Fortunately for her there are few in the book. In fact this story is kind of a misnomer as little of the story is about the Crusade's but rather it is about a small group of Templar's and their efforts to prevent another crusade.

Ms. Young also does a poor job of getting me to care about any of the protagonists; Will Campbell is a likable guy but he seems to lack depth. Meanwhile, his secret love, Elwen, comes across as a shallow, selfish, and completely clueless girl which seems to directly contradict the character Young tries to create in Elwen. The little bit of actual description of Elwen led me to believe she would be a wise, savvy, and worldly lady who had experience far beyond her years and station. However, she constantly came across as clueless and naive. It was a shame because she, Elwen, had great promise when she was first introduced in the story.

The only character's that I really felt anything for were Garin, a drunken and selfish ex-templar who rightfully so merited nothing but contempt from me. At times it seemed that Ms. Young was apologetic for making him such as scoundrel and at least twice she tried to make excuses for him being a complete ass; but his utter lack of real redeeming qualities belied her efforts. The other interesting character was Kalawun - the mamluk conspirator with the Templar's trying to keep the peace. However, some elements of Kalawun were also completely unbelievable.

A prime example of the disconnect between Kalawun and his principals can be found in Kalawun's son, Khalil. The two of them have such divergent views concerning peace in the middle east you might think that Kalawun had no involvement in his children's lives. Yet, early on in the book Ms. Young suggested that not only was Kalawun involved in their lives but he was also close to them. Therefore, it made no sense to me that Khalil didn't at least understand his father's position and that Kalawun didn't raise his children to understand his point of view. How could Kalawun possibly hope for a lasting peace if he didn't even strive for it within his own household?

The story had a lot of promise but, sadly, the lack of believable characters just destroyed the book for me and I can't give it any higher than a 2 out of 5 star rating.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fevre Dream

Fevre Dream

Imagine a silent paddle-wheel cruising the Mississippi river in the still of the night stopping only to allow it's passengers the opportunity to feast upon the blood of the unwary populace sleeping in range of the shoreline. So long as the captain were to avoid a predictable pattern of stops they would be able to terrorize the entire length of the Mississippi and it's tributaries for generations.

This is the horrific possibility that Martin conjures within the dark pages of Fevre Dream; a tale of ruthless vampires, a riverman looking for redemption, and an idealistic young vampire who sees a future where vampires no longer need to succumb to the allure of drinking the blood of man.

Fevre Dream is a slightly different take on the traditional vampire story. It is set in the busy river-boating days of the late 19th century America. Martin does a few interesting things with the vampire legend that help set this story apart from others covering the same topic. For example he provides a compelling and believable backstory to the drinking of blood while at the same time he obliterates some of the more cloying bits of folklore about how to defend against a vampire.

I normally don't read "horror", however Martin's deft hand produced a tale I still enjoyed quite a bit. It's easy to read and flows along as smoothly as the river the book is set upon. To fans of George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series "A Song of Ice and Fire" Fevre Dream will come as a bit of a surprise; however, it is interesting to note that Fevre Dream was originally published in 1982 and thus gives you a glimpse into the evolution of his writing style. I think that if you like A Song of Ice and Fire you will also enjoy Fevre Dream; just in a different way.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 possible stars.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Whole New Mind

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

I was given this book when I joined a group called Create Huntington. It was given as sort of a home-work assignment as we work toward building a more creative community in my small hometown of Huntington, WV.

Overall, I think Pink hits the nail on the head though, truth be told, I began reading the book with a bit of animosity considering he attacks my profession, Software Engineering, right off the bat. Fortunately I think he misses the mark in regards to that particular field in his failure to understand the amount of creativity that is needed within it.

Pink makes a simple but effective case, in general, for why manufacturing jobs and anything else that just takes people and time won't be the future of the US economy. We can't even begin to compete against nations such as India and China where they have millions of people training in the traditional "powerhouse fields" of medicine or programming as well as nearly endless supplies of lower wage laborers who can assemble things just as well as anyone in the states.

Instead our future is in providing creativity and generating value out of the leisure time can afford to apply to the products and services the rest of the world is creating.

Granted, I don't think that we will survive just be being creative; we need to become the producers of things as well but the only way we will be able to leverage our production is by making the end product stand out and the only way we can do that is by applying our creativity to the problems the products solve.

We don't own the market on creativity but, as a people, we have more time and freedom to pursue it so we need to lead the way before we find ourselves being left behind.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Scar

The Scar

I bought this book at the same time I bought Perdido Street Station and I can thankfully say this story was much better, to me, than the other. I didn't really like any of the main characters but I was, at least, sympathetic to their plight.

I imagine my enjoyment is incremented somewhat by my lessened expectations. I had high hopes going into Perdido Street Station but I was barely willing to open The Scar after that let down.

This story doesn't really take place in New Crobuzon but the dark city still has its place in the tale and the the city's looming presence seems to exist on every page due to it's threat to the floating city of Armada.

Armada is a city of remade (creatures, including humans, who have been substantially altered) and outcasts from the mainland. For the most part the city thrives on piracy and they maintain genetic diversity via kidnapping and assimilation. It is this pattern of kidnapping and assimilation which brings the reader, via the interpretor, Coldwine, onto Armada.

From the point Coldwine arrives on the floating city onward the story is one of intrigue and deception with an ending, much like Perdido Street Station, that I found disappointing. In fact, it is the ending which led me to give this book four, instead of five, stars.

Overall I enjoyed the completely different style that MiƩville has though I do wish he would use the term "opaque" a little less often.

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station

I had pretty high hopes going into Perdido Street Station so I am a bit disappointed to only be giving it three stars. I had heard from so many different sources about how great this book was that I often found myself wondering if I was reading the right book.

To be blunt the story just didn't engage me at all. I managed to work my way to the finish but reading a novel shouldn't be work - it should be an entertaining escape. Yet, somehow, Mieville managed to turn this novel into a chore.

The first problem I had was that I never cared about any of the characters. I couldn't feel sympathetic to any of them. In fact, the whole story seemed more about the city itself than any of the characters; as if "Perdido Street Station" where intended to introduce me to New Crobozun; the sentient characters were just there to help guide me through the dark.

The city itself is interesting but it just wasn't enough to convince me to like this book.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire
I picked up both this book an "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" at the same time and read them back to back. The story of Lisbeth Salander is a pretty dark and compelling one and The Girl Who Played With Fire finally gives us some insight into the issues that plague Lisbeth and cause her to be so uncomfortable with people.

While the main characters, Lisbeth and Mikael, are the same in this story their relationship is entirely different. Mikael has lost all contact with Lisbeth and spends the vast majority trying to help Lisbeth without her even knowing about it. Listbeth, on the other hand, is living an even more complicated life than she had in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo".

Thanks to the money she managed to acquire near the end of the prior book Lisbeth is finally in a state of economic contentment; however, her personal life becomes even more tumultuous as she deals with various men who are preoccupied with exacting vengeance upon her for past deeds; including her reclamation of independence in the first book.

Over the course of the story Salandar seems to open up a bit more and to trust others a little more and, once again, when she faces her personal protagonist I found myself hoping she would once again be brutally vicious in punishing him. Normally I'm not a very violent person but I can't help but feeling a little "old testament eye-for-an-eye" behavior is justified when it comes to Lisbeth.

When I started reading "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" I had bit of a desire to visit Sweden; however, by the time I finished "The Girl Who Plays With Fire" I had begun to reconsider it for fear of what might happen to my wife and daughters as we walk down the street. I'm sure I'm being entirely irrational but if there is one thing you can say for Steig's books; they don't really sell Sweden as a place that is friendly toward women.