29 March 2012

Review: The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt
The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found The Great Hunt to be about as good as The Eye of the World, and about as frustrating at times, too. My complaint stands on the books so far - Jordan, when writing about things that are exciting, appears to be one of the best. When I'm interested in what's going on, I can't get enough. Unfortunately, the books often take some time to get there, and that's often difficult, especially when you see how much book you have left. The end of this was better than the end of Eye however, and I'm excited to jump into the third book sooner rather than later.

* In similar form to Eye, Jordan didn't waste a ton of time getting the ball rolling. We know where we're at, and things start moving along almost immediately. Of course, then things feel really, really slow for 300 pages, but in terms of roping you in immediately, he did a great job here.

* I mentioned in the review for Eye that Loial was my favorite character, and I was happy to see him front and center again. The visit to the Ogier Stedding was a great touch as well. I'm glad to see Loial continue to get attention...

* ...as am I excited to see more about the Aes Sedai. The Nynaeve initiation and the capture of Egwene were probably my favorite parts of this book in particular, and highlight a problem I have with a lot of fantasy fiction, where the seemingly secondary stories end up being more interesting to me than the main story. Two books into the Wheel of Time and I'm hitting that hardcore with the Aes Sedai side of things in particular. I'm not sure how long that will keep going with these books, but the way Jordan does successfully bring everyone back together regularly is an asset to at least fixing this in my own brain.

* With one exception, I have found the growth of Rand as a character to be fascinating. It definitely gives the idea that Rand is incomplete at this point, and we're learning new things about him around the same time he is, and it may not be all that unique, but it certainly feels different. With that said, I feel as if Rand is suffering from Stupid Plot Device syndrome - following Selene to Cairhein didn't seem to make a lot of initial sense to me, and kinda still doesn't. I don't really get it.

Overall, though? Still interested, still engaged, still involved. I'm definitely looking forward to the third book.

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27 March 2012

Review: Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy

Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy
Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy by Robert Neuwirth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I tend to shy away from books like this, mostly because they tend to be more about expanding magazine-level journalism into a book-length treatise when it isn't necessary. The good thing is that Stealth of Nations would definitely make a good magazine treatment while being interesting and detailed enough for a book.

The book is more or less a quick and easy read about the underground economy - the selling of pirated materials in China, unlicensed food vendors in San Francisco, the sale of water itself in Nigeria. All sorts of different ways the "stealth economy" works on a regular basis for millions of people worldwide exchanging trillions of dollars yearly.

While a lot of my enjoyment of this book was centered around my favorable political biases toward those sticking it to governments and licensing boards, it's more fascinating to me about all the different ways we see this type of economy pop up, both in developed and underdeveloped nations. How so much of what we take for granted - selling a book online, for example - is part of this economy even if we dislike the concept personally.

Definitely an interesting read if this is up your alley. It's generally nonpolitical, so there's no concern there on a whole, and it's chock-full of a lot of fun and different information.

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22 March 2012

Review: The Doomsday Vault

The Doomsday Vault
The Doomsday Vault by Steven Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My limited experience with steampunk has been of the more gritty variety. Most of the steampunk I've read has been more the Cherie Priest variety, where the setting is more dark and things are Very Wrong and not so much fun. Thus, when I read a book like All Men of Genius or this, it feels different and fresh for me.

This was a fun one. On one hand, you have Alice, she of high society in London and great with a wrench. On the other, Gavin, a cabin boy flying over to Europe in a dirigible from Boston. When Gavin's ship is hijacked by pirates, Gavin escapes and eventually crosses paths with Alice, opening the door for a much wider situation.

The book pretty much had everything I was looking for: fun with machines, zombies, a government conspiracy, some sci-fi elements, and a fun, fast-paced plot that didn't telegraph too much and didn't seem out of place or too reliant on the setting. I couldn't tell you why I chose to pick this up, but I did and I'm glad.

Definitely recommended if steampunk is your cup of tea, and definitely recommended if you're looking to dip your toe into the steampunk waters. Really high quality, and with a sequel coming out very soon, I'm fairly anxious to see what comes next.

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16 March 2012

Review: Faith

Faith by John Love

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been reading so much fantasy as of late that I was starting to wonder if I lost my taste for good sci-fi. The last few I tried to pick up didn't sit well with me at all, and I had high hopes for this one based on some reviews.

The bad: it starts out slow, and, frankly, kind of ridiculous. There's good concepts about this mysterious ship that essentially made a civilization regress centuries with how soundly it defeated them, and the ship, known as Faith to those in the system, is back. We have some strange races around, and we have a class of ship that operate outside of the realm of the system government, all of which are named after serial killers. This story revolves mostly around the crew of the Charles Manson, who believe they have the capability to defeat and destroy Faith.

What follows, after nearly 100 pages of setup (setup that can get awfully tiring) comes a simply awesome, very exciting battle between two massive spaceships nearly the rest of the way through. It's tactical, it's psychological, nothing at all happens the way you'd expect, and it becomes very philosophical at times, and it rarely lets up on the gas the entire time. I kept waiting to see the climax of the battle to come and to come, and it just rewarded me with more action.

It's not a traditional sci-fi space opera, even though it hits all those chords perfectly. It was a great read because it scratched my specific sci-fi itch, but it was also a great read because it was so unexpected in so many ways. I can't say for sure that it broke a lot of new ground, but it felt fresh and different, and that meant something for me.

This book definitely lived up to the hype for me. Glad I grabbed it when I did, and I'm glad I stuck with it. If this is your style, I definitely recommend it.

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10 March 2012

Review: A Short Stay in Hell

A Short Stay in Hell
A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's books like this that make me absolutely love Goodreads. I received this as an advance copy after finding the book's premise to be really fascinating. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did, and there's no way I would have ever even known the book existed without Goodreads, so yeah.

The premise is very simple - Hell is different for different people, there's only one true religion (and you probably don't subscribe to it), and the hero of our story, Soren, is in Hell and has been sent to a version of the Library of Babel, a library that contains every possible book that could ever possibly be written, and the only way out is to find your own story in a book somewhere on the seemingly limitless shelves.

The book is great on a number of levels - it has a really fun version of Hell as is, and the book really instills the right about of depth and despair inherent in the concept while leaving room for some humor and light-heartedness. While I don't know if I can go so far as to say that there's a deeper message here, there's plenty of thoughts and ideas that come about from reading this regardless, whether it be about the reality of humanity, the inanity of seemingly pointless tasks, or just the concept of what may very well be infinite or forever.

I really have no complaints about this book. Even the ending was as immensely satisfying as it was unexpected, and that is a rarity in a lot of fiction. At novella length, it makes me wish it went on longer in some respects, but also makes me very happy that there's absolutely no filler to have to deal with. I feel like this book is much better than it has any business being, and that's just a great find amongst the many shelves we have on earth. I cannot recommend this book enough.

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Review: The Flame Alphabet

The Flame Alphabet
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that starts out strong with a killer idea, but staggers somewhat to the finish line. I make it sound worse than it really is, truly, but I had very high expectations going in that the book didn't quite meet.

The concept is that the speech of children are making adults sick. It quickly becomes a fascinating study of language, of parenting, of religion and intolerance. There's a conspiracy that it's only Jewish families who are involved, there's beliefs that it's speech itself, there are secret groups and breakaway sects, a lot of good things going on here.

The strongest part of the book, however, is really how convincing everything is. I bought into the feelings the characters had about the situation, about each other - the anger, the sadness, the despair. It was all really well done, and for a book that is somewhat literary-minded, it was refreshing to see that as front-and-center as it was as opposed to the concept itself.

Really, a great book I highly recommend. It's probably closer to a 4.5, it moves along really well, and has a lot going for it in a variety of areas.

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08 March 2012

Review: The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, my basic thoughts on the book. My introduction to adult fantasy literature was actually The Sword of Shannara, the Terry Brooks series. The first book, from 1977, is a book I haven't read in close to 20 years, but reminds me a lot of The Eye of the World, largely in part since both probably (read: definitely) derive from The Fellowship of the Ring. So Jordan's not exactly breaking new ground even in 1990, never mind reading it in 2012. This is not a bad thing, mind you - I love a good high fantasy and some nice sword and sorcery as much as the next guy, and a lot of the modern fantasy books, from the urban trend to less accessible stuff like some of the Night Shade Books collection, leave me cold. It's just interesting to read in this context.

Some other scattershot thoughts, which may be spoilery for some so if you want to remain pristine, stop here:

* I was impressed about how quickly this book got rolling. I'm used to most books, fantasy or otherwise, taking a lot of time to establish settings and characters and whatnot, and I believe it was 11 pages in when we started diving head-first into the plot. This would have been great had the next few hundred pages taken their time to catch up, unfortunately, but I did love the initial attempt to not waste any time. We learn about the Fades very quickly, we see some Trollocs, we see a lot of fun nods to future book titles already - it felt good and a little different. I'm also surprised at the amount of mystery Jordan introduced so early on, and truly how well it unwound itself over the 660ish pages. I would have liked the first third or so of the book to move differently, but it made up for it.

* So, Trollocs. Listen, I get that they're sort of this universe's orcs, I get that everyone is really, really afraid of them, but what I don't get is why. The only reason we're really afraid of Trollocs is because Rand and company are afraid of Trollocs, and perhaps because there are so many of them. At least from my point of view, they're simply big and dumb and not really that scary or vicious or even that dangerous at all. Yeah, they take out Rand's father, but it was dark and no one was expecting them - for god's sake, they essentially get trapped in the Ways like dumb animals. Really strange, maybe someone can explain this to me.

* On the flipside, I really like the Darkfriends as an enemy. The idea of them, in my mind, as this grand worldwide conspiratorial group that are linked in mysterious ways and could be lurking anywhere tickles me in all the right places, even if "Darkfriends" is quite possibly the least threatening name of anything ever. May as well call them the Rainbow Kittens, y'know? Especially when you compare them to the Trollocs, the Darkfriends are great. I'm hoping we see more of them going forward.

* So far? Loial, the Ogier, is my favorite character. I don't know whether it's because Jordan wrote him so well, or if they remind me of so many other super-expressive sci-fi/fantasy characters from various mediums that I've loved over the years, but I enjoyed every scene Loial was in, and I'm hoping we see more of him as well.

* As a quick aside, I'm mostly spoiler-free except for one point that I read regarding someone (possibly Rand) losing their hand. If it's Rand, I'm very impressed, as the last couple pages give a fairly obvious foreshadowing moment to that eventually happening. If not, well, it's still some neat flavor for the world at hand.

So my thoughts so far? Very happy so far, even if it was a bit of a slog to start. I don't want to pace myself, but I'm kind of chomping at the bit for book two. I'm hoping with some established characterization and some sense of the world that the next book moves a little quicker, but that's it. Regardless, I'm feeling very in right now.

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