Tuesday, February 23, 2010

[Lisa’s Take] Rainwilds Book 1: Dragon Keeper (Robin Hobb)

I have a backlog of half-written reviews right now, but I wanted to write a quick blurb about this one while it was fresh in my mind.

Robin Hobb is one of my favorite authors. Her Farseer Trilogy was probably the series that turned me into a hardcore fantasy buff at 16, severing my ties to scifi and standard fiction. Usually she has amazing characters, interesting plots, and boy can she spread on the angst like no other.

That said, Dragon Keeper was a huge disappointment. It picks up a few years after the events of the Liveship Traders trilogy as the inhabitants of Bingtown struggle to recover from war and deal with dragons being returned to the world. It follows a small cast of characters (strong independent woman stuck in a stifling marriage, her husband’s suave secretary, a rough and uncouth captain of a river boat, and a young outcast girl trying to find her place in society) as they converge from various walks of life and end up traveling up the rainwild river with a clutch of stunted young dragons. The characters themselves are pretty strong, but unfortunately that’s not enough to offset the flaws.

First and foremost: who the hell edited this book? I gripe about poor editing a lot these days, but Dragon Keeper takes the cake. Every 40 pages some information was repeated or restated, sometimes contradicting earlier statements. It was annoying an jarring to the flow of the narrative, and a problem that would have been completely avoided with minor editing.

Secondly, while the repetition of info got me off on the wrong foot, but frankly the story itself was flimsy. Not a lot happened, and there wasn’t really any suspense or tension, outside of minor character drama. I enjoyed the story well enough, but didn’t feel any ebb or flow in the narrative. Adding to that feeling was the fact that the book didn’t have an ending – pages just stopped existing after one chapter. It could have stopped 3 chapters earlier and had the same effect. I practically experienced a sense of vertigo when I turned the page and there was nothing there. Words can’t express the sound of disgust I made.

Speaking of flimsy stories – I felt like the author leaned far too heavily on the contents of The Liveship Traders novels for a series that is supposed to stand on its own. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that a new reader would have been fairly lost, and wondering who the hell a lot of the bit-part characters were (characters that had a rich history in Liveship Traders, but drifted in and out of Dragon Keeper with no intro or explanation).

Was I happy with Book 1? Absolutely not. I did enjoy the book overall, kinda, but there was so much wrong with it that I finished it feeling angry. Will I pick up book 2? Probably. I’m a sucker for Robin Hobb, and I’ll cling to the hope that she (or her editor) will correct some of the problems in the sequel. Even if the next book is of equally poor quality, the strong characterizations will get me through it… I hope.

Friday, February 19, 2010

JD's Take: Makers (Cory Doctorow)

This one is gonna be pretty quick. I was very disappointed by this novel and don't really want to dwell on it. Cory's usual mad-creative ideas were in evidence, and his characterizations were better than usual. However, compared to his previous works this one just doesn't hold up. There are sections of page-turning-fun as you follow the cast of unique and flawed characters through a near-future pseudo-industrial revolution led by (who else?) the DIY tinkerers. However, the flow of the story is repeatedly stopped short and you'll be forced to endure 50 page long screeds about the evils of corporations, the dangers of "selling out", the corrupting influence of "suits" and lawyers, and the general shittiness of people in general.

I really enjoyed much of Cory's prior work (Eastern Standard Tribe and One Comes to Town, One Leaves Town, and Little Brother are particularly enjoyable). He has a knack for writing near future science fiction that ignores the practical, he just throws around ideas about cool things and pretends that the world will go along with them. This leads to weird future worlds that are LIKE a future we could imagine, filled with references to current-era events and people, but are so fundamentally UNreal that they become belief-suspending micro-worlds for us to play in. It's like the opposite of Halting State. That style is very much in evidence, but it's so bogged down by soapboxing and hystrionics that it's just not any fun to read.

Full disclosure: I gave up on this one 350 out of 450 pages in. This... might be the first time I've ever read that much of a book and quit.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

[Lisa’s Take] Pandora’s Star – Peter F. Hamilton

First thing first. Pandora’s Star is a great book. It’s exciting and interesting and original. It is to Sci-Fi what Tad Williams’ Otherworld is to Fantasy: epic, sweeping, exploratory –full of awesome and strange worlds that house interesting and sympathetic characters. Weeks after finishing it I’m still mulling over certain themes and situations. That said, I have a few words for Mr. Hamilton...

Dude. Seriously. Close to a thousand pages and you couldn’t write a damn ending to your book? Really? A cliffhanger is the best you could manage? Oh, and we need to have a little discussion about character names. In the first 50ish pages, you accidentally named 2 characters “Nigel.” One is a major player, and one is a little bit-character. I know this sort of thing happens in real life, but do me a favor and don’t confuse me while reading. On a related note, it would be fantastic if you could do a better job differentiating your characters and making them memorable. You had it down by the 2/3 mark of the book, but for at least 500 pages it was a struggle to figure out who was who. Oh, speaking of things you had down by the end of the book – good god could your chapter structure have BEEN more formulaic at the start? For hundreds of pages every single chapter started with a character-context-free, long-winded description of a technology or planet that went on for pages and pages before you finally remembered what was going on and reigned yourself in with a quiet little “ahem, where was I? Oh yeah, I was supposed to be talking about THIS character.” I know from the second half of the book that you can build worlds and environments incredibly well without going on tangential rants – why didn’t you apply that approach to the first half of the book?

*pant...pant... deeeeep breath*

Sorry. That got away from me a bit. I don’t know why anyone ever lets me rant.
Anyway, I obviously had quite a few gripes about Pandora’s Star but for all of that it was a fantastic read and I will absolutely be picking up the sequel. I loved Hamilton’s world building and his ideas about technology were incredibly cool. I was especially impressed by his investigation of body rejuvenation and the potential effects on marriage, friendship, and family. Maybe it’s just my lack of sci-fi reading for the past 10 years, but I also thought it was insightful to come up with a space exploration mechanism that made ships and shuttles obsolete. Like I said – still mulling over the book’s themes weeks later.

Bottom line: I think I’d classify Pandora’s Star as a staple of any sci-fi diet. Yes, it tweaked quite a few of my pet peeves, but it also managed to pretty much blow me away. Excellent.